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Council tax

Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Editor, Politics Show South

Firstly: Can you work out which is the real council job and which ones we have made up?

Only two things in life are certain, they say - death and taxes.

And with clockwork inevitability we are at that time of year when local government does the tax bit.

Harrier Jump Jet
Hampshire County Council staff greater than Royal Navy

Specifically, what increases in council tax we can expect for next year.

Already we can see two broad approaches emerging. In many areas the council is one of if not the largest local employer.

So some councils are seeing boosting employment with public sector jobs as a way to help soften the impact of the recession locally.

Expand or contract?

Hampshire County Council is taking on an extra 700 staff to add to their existing 39,000 on the payroll.

Rather more than the 37,500 in the Royal Navy, although probably not trained to the same peak of fighting trim.

But others, one in seven of local authorities, are cutting back on staff because of the recession.

The Isle of Wight council is shedding 200 staff as well as looking for other efficiency savings.

Which council has the right approach? Interestingly, both are Conservative-run, and "Keynesian" Hampshire is looking for a tax rise of 1.9% whilst "monetarist" Isle of Wight is asking for 3.5%.

Comparison invidious

Isle of Wight ferry
'Monetarist' Isle of Wight asking for 3.5%

Comparisons between two councils are notoriously invidious, and a blizzard of percentages may not be the easiest thing to navigate.

But the two approaches suggest some interesting talking points at least.

And then there was the even more interventionist "Bank of Portsmouth" idea.

Technically the slightly less snappily-titled "Portsmouth Revolving Loan Fund", it is 250,000 that the council has set aside to provide loans to small - and crucially, local - businesses to help them weather the downturn.

Fair deals?

Some, though, are fairly certain which side of the argument has the right of it.

Christine Melsom, of the Isitfair campaign, sees the real issue in taking on extra council staff as the attractive pensions they will all be getting, which is a commitment that goes beyond the current recession.

She also argues that councils should be cutting council tax rather than lending money to someone else: "I don't think councils should be playing around with other people's money".

There is another thing which has more than a whiff of inevitability about it - whatever the size of our council tax hike we will feel it is too much.

Perhaps even more so in these straitened times.

But is this exactly when we need our councils to be priming the pumps a little more, even if it is with our money?

Contentious stuff, so why not send us an email and join the debate?

And join Peter Henley live on Sunday 22 February 2009 from 1200 GMT on BBC One.

In the meantime, why not see how much you know about the jobs and services local councils supply by taking our Council Jobs Challenge?

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