by Jan Pahl
At the last meeting of the city council’s Canterbury Area Member Panel members agreed that the city is currently enduring a plague of graffiti.
At the same meeting they concluded that little could be done about it. This beautiful and historic city is being steadily despoiled.
Many individuals and groups have done great work in clearing graffiti and beautifying the places which were so unsightly.
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But the job is too big for volunteers. We need the council to take responsibility, but it seems that there is no money to clean off the graffiti, to catch the offenders or to renovate walls and underpasses and cover them with anti-graffiti paint.
The same story is told in towns and cities across the country. Not only is there no money to deal with graffiti, but there is also no money for clearing litter properly, keeping parks and gardens in good order, maintaining libraries and museums, funding schools and protecting services of many different sorts.
Britain is one of the richest countries in the world. So why is there no money to maintain the quality of life in the places where we live?
We are happy to pay to enhance our homes and private gardens: why do we seem so unwilling to pay to enhance our public spaces?
One reason is the neglect of council tax. This is levied on a sliding scale, divided into bands, which reflect the value of the house.
These bands have not been revised since 1991. The result is that someone living in house worth £350,000 pays the same as someone in a house worth £3 million – or £30 million.
Research in 2018 by the Resolution Foundation and by the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that council tax is highly regressive.
Poor people, and younger people, pay a much higher proportion of their income in council tax than do richer people.
So in London the poorest pay over 10% of their income compared with 1.3% for the richest. Council tax is also regressive in terms of regions. Poorer parts of the country raise less in council tax than richer areas, despite their greater needs.
A second reason is neglect by central government. The National Audit Office has shown that since 2010 there has been a reduction in real terms of 49% in central government funding to local authorities.
Local authority finance has been a low priority for all the political parties. Many have been content to let the council take the blame for the run-down of local services. But the blame rests squarely with central government.
It is time to press urgently for the reform of local authority finances, so that the payment of council tax is shared more fairly and so that the money is there to provide the local services we all need, use and value.
Prof Jan Pahl is chairman of the Canterbury Society and a professor of social policy at the University of Kent