A forgotten player in plans to boost consumer spending are local councils, who charge VAT on a range of local services used by residents on a daily basis. Sadly too many of them, including Conservative-Lib Dem run Camden Council, are not passing on the full benefit to local people.
The temporary VAT cut by 2.5% gives more money to the local consumer over coming weeks and months. The support will not only help spending in local shops and services, but also applies for many 'paid for' public services people regularly use. The benefit of the reduction should be felt in services ranging from swimming pools and leisure facilities, parking meters and car parks to building control services and licensing.
Since 1 December implementation has been piecemeal. A poll of 34 finance officers by the Local Government Chronicle revealed that only one third of budgeters and chief executives are expecting to leave their prices unchanged, while another third will only pass on part of the cut.
The sums involved could be quite significant, and local government - now run in many areas by Conservative, Lib Dem or anti-Labour coalitions - should respond much more positively in giving people back what is theirs.
To give just one example from one such borough - Camden - where the total bill for council fees and charges is currently £85 million a year, there are currently no plans to pass on the benefit of the 2.5% VAT cut to local people. As an opposition, Labour is asking the council to identify all VAT-rated services and pass on the full benefit either by reducing fees or by giving residents a one-off sum at the end of the year.
If local shops are passing on the 2.5% then so should the council. They shouldn't be hoarding cash at this time, they sure be giving it back to those who use our swimming pools, rent our community football pitches or pay to park their car for a couple of hours to do the Christmas shopping. People will be increasingly concerned about the cost of living, and local authorities should also recognise this.
As a localist, I believe it is up to councils what they democratically decide to do and it is right to highlight those councils, like Camden, which don't or won't. Not to pass this cut on to residents is quite untenable.
Theo Blackwell is a Camden Labour councillor and opposition spokesperson on Finance. http://regentsparklabour.blogspot.com