From Rates to the Poll Tax: Local Government Finance in the Thatcher Era

By Arthur Midwinter; Claire Monaghan | Go to book overview

The absence of relationship between the measures analysed here and voting behaviour does not surprise us. There is strong evidence that explanations of voting behaviour are much more complex than the motivation of electors in political markets ( Miller, 1988). There is no price tag on election manifestos and often the tax implications of electoral choice are not clear to voters. In the absence of this assumed catalyst for change it is not surprising to find little evidence supporting the assumptions underpinning the Green Paper.


CONCLUSIONS

The Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc (Scotland) Act 1987, introduced a radical new system of local government finance to Scotland. This system was intended to isolate authorities spending above Government guidelines and force councils to pass this marginal expenditure onto chargepayers. With all the electorate now incurring some local tax liability, the mismatch between those who vote for, those who pay for and those who receive local government services should be diminished.

At all levels, the analysis was over-simplistic. The budgetary process within local authorities is exceedingly complex and there are a number of factors, not least the Government's own Revenue Support Grant, which prevent marginal spending from being isolated in the way outlined in the Green Paper. Secondly, there is little evidence that the electorate regard the ballot box as a means of voting for service packages with price tags. The first electoral test of the community charge suggests that voting patterns were little affected by the introduction of the reforms. There is similarly an absence of evidence supporting the view that the new taxation system more closely reflects the services consumed by individuals.

The government's argument that the rebate system would protect low income households is not supported by the evidence. There was a clear shift in tax liability from owner-occupiers to those in public housing. Rural areas have been severely affected by the introduction of the poll tax. However, the new financial structure means that inhabitants of rural areas must pay the same as those living in more urban parts.

The objectives of the new tax system have not been met and the consequences of implementing the reforms have differed from those expected by Government. Administrative complexities have been considerable. Many of these are attributable to the speed at which the legislation was introduced in Scotland which was too fast to allow computer systems to be adequately checked. The near doubling in the number of local taxpayers made the scale of operations difficult to manage, a problem which could have been partially

-97-

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From Rates to the Poll Tax: Local Government Finance in the Thatcher Era
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • List of Tables v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Chapter One - the Fiscal and Budgetary Environment 1
  • Chapter Two - the Conservative Agenda 29
  • Chapter Three - the Control of Local Expenditure 38
  • Conclusion 61
  • Chapter Four - the Reform of Local Taxation 63
  • Conclusions 97
  • Chapter Five - the Politics of Efficiency 99
  • Chapter Six - the Limits to Financial Reform 123
  • Conclusions 135
  • References 140
  • Index 149
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