01 June 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Borough Tax Statistics


Someone high up in High Peak Borough Council is not being straight with the poor people in the area who they demand money from.

Calculations printed on the council tax demand are being manipulated. The purpose of the manipulation is to get a political message across, favourable to the local Conservative party and those it wants to be seen supporting.

In essence, the issue that has blown up is the politicising of the local tax, its measurement and its collection.

Transparency subscribers with longer memories will recall it was this same subject that was the end of Margaret Thatcher. At that time the collection of local tax became known as 'Poll Tax'. For almost a century previously in local government it had been called simply 'the rates'.

If one gets out this year's Council Tax bill and last year's, and places them side by side, the manipulation of the presentation of the figures becomes apparent.

The High Peak Council Tax bill is broken down into four principal headings, universal to every household: Derbyshire County Council; High Peak Borough Council; Derbyshire Police; Derbyshire Fire Authority. On some bills there is also a smaller figure for a parish, for those who happen to live in one. Each of the headings has an amount of money next to it, demanded from the council tax payer.

Look at last year's bill. The above is all there is. The bill deals with money and is otherwise blank. No message from on high.

The first issue over manipulation arises if you compare it with this year's bill. This year, someone composed and wrote an 'Efficiency Message' at the bottom. And strangely enough, it selectively chooses statistics that present the Conservative-controlled authority (HPBC) in a good light, and the Labour-controlled authority (DCC) in a bad light.

The other sinister feature is that the Police have been selectively left out of 'Efficiency Message'. If Derbyshire Police figures were included then - calculated the way the Conservatives have done it - their statistic would not look flattering. This does not suit the local Conservatives' agenda, so instead of being honest and putting all of the four headings in the 'Efficiency Message', or alternatively being honest and leaving out all of the four headings and having no 'Efficiency Message', they handled it differently. In a less than transparent way.

The two manipulations, set out above, find the local Conservatives exposed as trying on the oldest political trick in the book.

Incidentally, it was a Tory prime minister* who coined the expression 'There are lies, damn lies, and statistics'.

* Benjamin Disraeli 1804 - 1881

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