I refer to the letter published on February 5 2016 in which Councillor Paula Bradshaw attempted to justify the Alliance Party decision to once again ‘walk through the lobbies with Sinn Fein’ and vote to hike the burden on Belfast rate payers.
This I fear has been a consistent pattern of behaviour ever since Alliance joined with Sinn Fein to remove the Union flag from City Hall in 2012.
In her attempt to justify this decision Ms Bradshaw made a number of assertions which are incorrect. The first of these was that the Local Government Reform Act of 2011 somehow requires that the budget and rates increase proposed by officials is accepted by councillors.
As the special advisor I assisted the Environment Minister Sammy Wilson to draft this piece of legislation, and I can assure readers that no such requirement exists. The legislation does require that Councils strike a rate that will result in a balanced budget.
That is that income equals expenditure – just as a housewife has to balance her household budget. Unlike the household who has to manage her expenditure to meet a fixed level of income local government can increase income by increasing the rates to match a desired level of expenditure. I am sure we all wished we lived in such a fantastical household.
Belfast City Council does have statutory duties which must be funded, for example bin collection. However a significant proportion of expenditure is discretionary and is a political decision, for example sending councillors to the annual South by South West Music Festival in Austin Texas.
When I questioned an Alliance councillor, not Ms Bradshaw, on the wisdom of such expenditure, she justified it on the grounds that she had a great interest in the United States. The decision of Alliance to follow the Sinn Fein lead on this issue is a political decision. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.
Ms Bradshaw also claimed that the hike in rates was in line with inflation and that rates had therefore remained steady in real terms.
This assertion is based on the use of the arcane GDP Deflator as the measure of inflation.
The government’s preferred measure, used to set welfare payments and income tax allowances is the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). In January 2015 the CPI rate stood at 0.2%. A rate rise of 1.48% therefore represents a real increase in rates bills for both business and households. Such statistical manipulations are often described disparagingly as ‘politician mathematics’.
Alliance has long cultivated an image of centrist moderation. However, over recent years the party in Belfast has been taken over by a small group of radical activists whose outlook is more in line with that of the Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party than with the moderate majority.
Alliance are now more often than not to be found in the same lobby as Sinn Fein whether the issue is the Union Flag, Islamic State, the rights of the unborn child, or in this case the taxation of hard pressed families.
Graham Craig, Councillor, Belfast City Hall