Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 12:27 UK

Your life in your council's hands

By Adrian Browne
Political reporter

Bins
Councils do much more than just empty our bins every week or two

Media coverage of the work of local government often uses pictures of bin men.

Nothing wrong with that - they do an important job and we all notice if they don't turn up for some reason.

But local authorities have a huge range of responsibilities which probably have a much bigger impact on our day-to-day lives than many of us realise.

So with Wales set to elect councillors on 1 May, here are some examples of how they affect everyday life.

The evidence of what local authorities get up to is all around us.

The streets we use, buses we travel on, our children's schools, libraries and leisure centres.

If we want to extend our home or want to stop next door blocking the sunlight from our garden, the council is our first port of call to defend our rights.

Housing, dealing with that restaurant you think gave you a funny tummy last weekend and the vital business of child protection - it is all important and even a matter of life and death in some cases.

COUNCILS' MAIN INCOME SOURCES
Council tax bill
Assembly government grant: 63%
Council tax: 20%
Business rates: 16%
Source: Welsh Local Government Association

Local government matters, and we all suffer if our town hall makes a mess of some of the services it is running.

One other thing we notice is the size of our council tax - now an average of around 870 for band D households in Wales.

Because it arrives on our mat as a big bill every year, unlike income tax and VAT, it is hard to ignore.

Now, this next bit may make both our heads hurt, but it is one of the reasons why our council tax can rise quite sharply sometimes, and is not widely understood. Some 80% of the money councils have to spend comes from the Welsh Assembly Government - 4 out of every 5.

Democratic right

Any extra cash the council decides to spend, above what ministers in Cardiff feel is needed, has to be found from council tax.

So, using round figures to keep it simple, if the assembly government believes a council should spend 100 a year, 80 would come from the assembly government and 20 from council tax.

Now, what if the council wants to spend an extra 5 on services?

It will still get the same 80 assembly government money and so needs to find all the extra from council tax.

Council tax goes up 5 to 25, a 25% increase in the tax to pay for a spending increase of just 5%.

There are, of course, lots of other reasons for council tax rises, and candidates will be explaining how they see it until 1 May - and beyond.

It can be argued that the more of us who exercise our democratic right and vote this year, the more incentive there is for those who will take charge of our local services until 2012 to do what we ask.

By voting to back your current local council or to turf them out of office next month, you will at the very least be in a better position to commend or criticise it over the next four years.


WELSH COUNCIL ELECTIONS 2008

  Councillors Councils
Party +/- Total +/- Total
LAB -124 342 -6 2
CON 63 174 1 2
PC 31 205 -1 0
LD 21 162 0 0
OTH 9 381 0 0
NOC - - 6 18
22 of 22 councils declared.

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