31 October 2012

Duty to spend money wisely

click to enlarge

Dear Cllr Cornelius

I read with interest your letter in the Barnet Times of last week.

I am not a member of BAPS, although I do feature in the wraparound, and you are taking issue with its accuracy "given the extent of the inaccuracies and errors of the wraparound" which by extension, impugns my credibility.

I always strive for accuracy in what I write and if I dispute someone else's figures that is because I have a view as to what is accurate backed up by pieces of paper.

What I would therefore like to receive from you is a list of the alleged inaccuracies and errors so that I can study it. Simply saying that some unspecified figure is wrong is simply a political sound bite and I know how fond you are of sound bites Dr Evil.

One figure that you do seem to be taking issue with is the Billion Pound Gamble figure. You have carefully quoted only the expenditure figures in your
letter. You are not telling the whole truth as the outsourcing contracts (if they ever get signed) will also concern the council's income.

Here are the figures from 2011 taken from the council's own reports (rounded to the nearest thousand to make them easier to digest.) (readers - reports are below)

£ DRS NSCSO Together
Costs 18,528,000 43,961,000 62,489,000
Income 10,286,000 13,647,000 23,933,000
Combined 28,814,000 57,608,000 86,422,000
Ten years 288,140,000 576,080,000 864,220,000
15 years 432,210,000 864,120,000 1,296,330,000

The items included in the One Barnet projects have changed over time due to changes of scope and cuts to services and staffing. The figures are in a constant state of flux. The range is from £522,000,000 for 10 years using your expenditure only figures to £1,296,330,000 across 15 years for all contracted items. Thus the roll off the tongue phrase "The Billion Pound Gamble" seems fair to me to give residents a flavour of what is proposed. They haven't exactly been told much by the council have they? A recent 1190 word scratch at the surface in Barnet First is all that the general public, as opposed to the public gallery, have had. One word for each million pounds. Not exactly shouting about One Barnet from the rooftops.
A good job us bloggers and BAPS & others are here to help spread the word for you.
Can I also whilst writing also point out an oversight in the draft gambling policy, which says:
The licensing authority has resolved not to license casinos, with immediate effect. Any applications received will be returned with a notification that a ‘no-casino’ resolution is in place.
There is an unlicensed high-stakes casino in the borough. It is called the Council Chamber and is located at Hendon Town Hall. I trust you will close it down immediately.
I do look forward to hearing from you soon with the disputed figures and your backup for them.
Yours sincerely

Mr Mustard

p.s. Please don't think that I am so sad that I spend my time counting words in Barnet First. The word count was done electronically.
DRS - June 2011

NSCSO - March 2011

30 October 2012

Seize your opportunity to halt One Barnet

Here is the draft of joint letter, sent by the famous five Barnet Bloggers to 62 councillors today (we left Richard Cornelius off the distribution list and doubtless another councillor will tell him what we have said)

Ten councillors have already opened their email, which happens to be sent by Mr Mustard on behalf of the famous five Barnet Bloggers because he is probably the one who spends most time glued to his keyboard.

from Cabinet Resources Committee of 18 Oct 12.

Dear Councillors

In the next few days you will be asked to vote on a motion of no confidence in the Conservative party leader Richard Cornelius.

You will no doubt be asked to express your loyalty to Councillor Cornelius and to defeat the motion.

As local residents we would like to ask you to think very carefully about the consequences of such an action.

We know that many of you are now deeply concerned about the future of the Conservative administration, that you have profound misgivings about the viability of the One Barnet programme, and that you are also concerned by the response of the leader to issues arising from the arrest and consequent charging of your colleague Councillor Brian Coleman, in relation to an alleged assault. The announcement today that the much trumpeted Landmark Library plan has fallen through can only add to your sense of misgiving. 

The continuing difficulties felt by residents and traders over the contentious parking policy has caused enormous damage to the relationship of trust between this administration and the residents of Barnet, and now it has become abundantly clear that the massive scale of privatisation of a further £1 billion worth of council services envisaged by the One Barnet project is hugely unpopular not only amongst residents and voters, but within your own ranks.

Last week Andrew Travers,  the newly appointed ‘interim’ Chief Executive of Barnet Council, affirmed to a committee that the ‘Joint Venture’ model was still very much under consideration, despite the fact that elected members have not been involved in the discussions for such a proposal, and that the leader has stated previously that he was being excluded from such discussions.

Councillors must ask themselves why they are being distanced from policy decisions of such vital significance. Who is in control of this council, councillors or the officers of the senior management team?

Once the £1 billion contracts are signed, of course, elected members will effectively lose all control over almost all of our council services, which will then be in the hands of unaccountable private companies for a period of ten years, with huge financial penalties to the authority, that is to say to residents, should any serious difficulties arise, which they inevitably will.

Councillors must also ask why there never been an independent assessment of the risks posed by the One Barnet programme, and why there has been such a clear failure to mitigate the risk of conflict of interest raised by the exchange of senior officers between the council and the private companies bidding for contracts as part of the One Barnet programme.

Such an apparent lack of regulation might reasonably be said to have compromised the whole procurement process, and to have exposed the authority to legal challenge, a prospect already a clear possibility on the basis of the blatantly inadequate consultation with the residents and stakeholders who will be bearing the full impact of the privatisation of almost all our council services.

Another question that must be addressed is the extraordinary level of cost to local taxpayers of Agilysis/iMPOWER, the consultants who are acting as the One Barnet ‘implementation partners’ – newly released figures reveal that their bill for September alone cost us nearly half a million pounds, and spending on all consultants, wildly out of control, is now estimated to reach a staggering total of £9.5 million.

Such extravagance with taxpayers’ money at a time of austerity, with no return in the form of savings is clearly a reckless indulgence, benefiting no one other than the consultants themselves. In combination with the loss in revenue as a result of the newly privatised parking service, it perfectly illustrates the improbability of the delivery of any of the promised savings from the outsourced profit of the One Barnet programme.

Last week Cornwall County Council voted to halt their own Joint Venture proposals at a late stage in the negotiations, due to the extent of concern felt by councillors and residents over the plans for their large scale privatisation of council services. The Conservative leader lost a vote of no confidence, having shown a determination to proceed with the plans in the face of enormous opposition.

Now here in Barnet you, our elected representatives, face the same choice as your Cornish counterparts - and now is the time for you to have the courage to act.
Please use this opportunity to bring a halt to the One Barnet programme and instigate a fundamental review of a commitment which will place the long term future of our borough, our services, our residents, in the hands of unaccountable private sector companies using us for their own profit.

Please take this last opportunity to stand up for what you know is right, what is the sensible thing to do.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Nolan Principles / No Principles

The seven principles of public life are

and in the last 18 months Mr Mustard thinks he has heard them talked about only the once and even then probably in the pub by the bloggers and not within the council chamber.

He is particularly interested in the Objectivity principle which states:
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Now take a look at the first section of this internal email from Andrew McLaughlan (the One Barnet Communications Manager - hence why you have never heard of him, he hasn't communicated with the public?) of 25 March 2011 which clearly states that in-house is not an option (quaintly phrased as "rather than providing services itself") 

(He only "expects" that the services will be cheaper. "Expect" isn't good enough for Mr Mustard and it shouldn't be good enough for councillors.)

Quite simply as the in-house option has not been given a look-in on DRS and on NSCSO the councillors in the Cabinet have not adhered to the Objectivity principle of the Nolan principles. It looks like Mr Mustard will have to talk to his lawyers.

What disturbingly closed minds the ruling councillors in the Cabinet have. 

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


27 October 2012

The Cabinet have a short memory - or a lack of historical appreciation

Back in 2009 the Cabinet received a paper entitled "Responding to the recession in Barnet". In 2001 the council savagely increased parking charges and made it very difficult to pay for the un-banked and the phone-less.


What did the 2009 report say in para 9.9? This (with added emphasis by Mr Mustard):

Reduction of street parking charges - 

Over the Christmas period the Council reduced on and off street pay and display charges to as low as 10 pence per hour to £1 per day for a two week period. The move was an attempt to increase the usage of parking spaces, generating increased footfall in town centres and provide a boost to retail trading and the local economy over the Christmas period. Analysis showed that short term parking increased significantly with some car parks showing a 35 per cent increase in their occupancy rate.

It looks like we should do that again and not just for Christmas, it should be all year round. More than half of the income to the Special parking Account comes from the issue of Penalty Charge Notices for parking and bus lane contraventions with a combined annual budget of £7,175,000 which makes the projected annual off-street car park income of £600,000 look like loose change.

It would get the traders back almost to where they were before. Most traders report takings are down by 40%. Maths lesson time; you have to be careful with percentages.

Let us suppose trade was actually down by 35% and a trader had an annual turnover of £100,000.

£100,000 less 35% = £65,000

35% of £65,000 is £22,750 so when trade goes back up by the same 35% turnover only reaches £87,750 so is still 12.25% down from where you started.

Mr Mustard donated an AS level maths book last week to the Friern Barnet Peoples Library & community hub if you want to improve your skills further.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

26 October 2012

Interesting facts - #1 parking software

Mr Mustard sees quite a lot of facts in the typical week (and an awful lot of theory) and now and then he has decided to share them with you.

In order to enforce parking contraventions the council needs software to keep all of the paperwork in order and to process parking tickets through the system. You might be surprised to find out how expensive it is to issue & process parking tickets. The annual software fee for 2012/13 is £268,603 (+ vat) and each year the council issue about 160,000 parking tickets so that is £1.68 a ticket just to keep a record of it. It doesn't sound much per ticket but the quarter of a million pounds has to be paid regardless of the number of tickets issued.

Prior to computers it just wouldn't have been possible to issue this many parking tickets without hundreds of clerks following the cases. 


In addition 50p out of every parking ticket issued (whether paid or not) gets paid to London Councils to fund PATAS. So that is £2.18 of your parking ticket money spent as soon as the ticket is printed out.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 October 2012

Appeal success figures crash

Readers may recall that Mr Mustard wrote about the fact that many appeals being taken to the third and final stage, an appeal to PATAS, were not being properly followed through. See this post from July.

Now we are only a week away from being 6 months into the contract with NSL and the teething troubles excuse is well and truly worn out. There is now no excuse for a parking firm not to be fully up to speed.

London Councils who run PATAS have put out the statistics for the year ended 31 March 2012, which you can find here. Ignore the spin about tickets being looked at more closely; the independent adjudicators make findings of fact.

Picking up the general figures first: 30,865 parking tickets cancelled out of 64,903 requests equals 48% cancelled.

Barnet's share of those were 841 parking tickets cancelled out of 1,322 requests which equals 64% cancelled. Barnet fared rather badly in the league table of London Boroughs. Only Tower Hamlets and Redbridge had marginally worse results. This suggests that Barnet have been following too mean a policy which we have certainly seen evidenced.

Since NSL took over the results have been in free fall. Here they are in a handy weekly digest.

Week Motorist Council
Starting won won
2 May 34 3
7 May 102 1
14 May 34 2
21 May 55 1
28 May 70 0
4 June 2 0
11 June 43 7
18 June 24 8
25 June 17 6
2 July 12 7
9 July 13 1
16 Jul 14 9
23 Jul 11 4
30 Jul 1 5
06 Aug 8 8
13 Aug 22 6
20 Aug 8 4
27 Aug 15 1
03 Sep 9 3
10 Sep 15 3
17 Sep 22 6
24 Sep 21 7
01 Oct 17 6
08 Oct 23 6
15 Oct 51 13
since NSL 406 36
Percentages 92% 8%

So the 64% has slipped to 92%. It makes Mr Mustard wonder if NSL management have simply decided not to bother about cases going to PATAS as they take up a lot of time and need someone who really understands parking to handle them and having got rid of the entire back office they are at somewhat of a loss?

What has this cost Barnet Council? The average parking ticket is worth £98. The cost of a PATAS appeal for Barnet Council is £46.73 so every PATAS loss costs £144.73

28% more of the cases than before the contract started are now being lost which so far in almost 6 months is 442 times 0.28 = 124 extra lost cases. At £144.73 a time that is £64,000 (to the nearest thousand) or £128,000 in a full year.

Wasn't this One Barnet contract going to save us £600,000 a year. It doesn't seem very likely to happen, now does it?

Mr Mustard does hope that these losses are being clawed back from NSL. When the next annual audit comes around Mr Mustard will be at the North London Business Park asking the difficult questions on behalf of all residents.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

23 October 2012


Here is another example of the standard letter PD07. The trouble with standard letters is that you have to fit the motorist into a square hole and they might be a round peg. An off the shelf solution to what is a custom made question. It will not work all the time. 

click to enlarge, back to return

Mr Mustard's comments, which follow the numbers down the side of the letter.

1. It is not a Notice, it is a letter.

2. The first redaction is the date in the format dd/mm/yyyy hh/mm/ss.  The second redaction is the vehicle registration plate and the third is the location with the cpz zone in brackets after the road name. The words "issued on" should appear before the date and the time is not needed especially the seconds. It would be better if the contravention description was placed in speech marks. I think something is also missing after "which was received" maybe the phrase "on dd/mm/yyyy". 

3. This is probably the case for every single parking ticket (PCN)

4. I don't think a negative can show anywhere. "A payment did not show on the handheld equipment of the civil enforcement officer" would be better wording although the sentence is probably superfluous and could be cut.

5. Almost correct except that there are 2 signs. The first one gives the times of the bay and the options for payment and the second sign probably on the other side of the pole gives detailed instructions.

6. This looks like a whopping great big lie. This ticket relates to one of the North Finchley parking swoop tickets when all the signs where changed one morning and simultaneously a gang of traffic wardens arrived and gave tickets to every motorist who had parked quite properly and was then faced with changed circumstances i.e. a blacked out sign turned into a new sign whilst they were away from their car. Can any trader in North Finchley tell him if signs had been up for weeks saying that other signs were to be replaced? (One trader has already confirmed that there were no such signs). 

Mr Mustard is himself a regular visitor to North Finchley. Two points from this. 

Firstly, why does it take weeks to change a sign when the council has a sign workshop? 

Secondly, what is a motorist expected to do, hang around waiting for the sign to be changed? If you receive this sentence in a letter write back and demand to see the evidence.

7. Irrelevant.

8. ditto.

9. Note the reference to a "letter" which was a "Notice" on the first page.

Now for more seeds of confusion to be sown. The PCN was issued on 11/9/12. So 28 days later is 9 October. 14 days after this "letter" is 12 October. So you can either pay £60 by 9 October or £30 by 12 October. Ridiculous. Which would you pay?

The letter/Notice says that the Notice to Owner will be issued 28 days after the PCN. That is 9 October. The motorist does not have it yet. The reason, which is not mentioned in the letter, is that after an informal challenge has been received the 28 days have to start again so this letter/Notice is just plain wrong.

This is what you get under One Barnet outsourcing. Firms like NSL Ltd who plainly don't know what they are doing and in trying to provide a service for less money provide a worse one than the council's own staff used to.

It is your name on these letters Barnet Council. You get the brickbats. You need to start sorting out the NSL back office; prior to 1 May, the council back office worked.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

22 October 2012

Customer contact cobblers

Bins left on pavement after being emptied
Two of Mr Mustard's neighbours have been left fuming in the last fortnight because their green bins were not collected. Both of them leave their bins as close to the gate as they can, consistent with getting in and out. In both cases the bins are in full view within 1m of the gate. They both complained and received stupid responses.

Rubbish answer no. 1:

We apologise again for the late response. Unfortunately according to our records there were no problems with your collection. On the Saturday of the 29th Sept 2012 the collection for your area/road portrays no issues reported by the crew.

Mr Mustard's response: The binmen are unlikely to admit having galloped past the gate like Frankel and not noticed the bin due to their unseemly rush to get round the streets and go home.

Incidentally this was the response to the first email sent by the customer and so why the first sentence exists is a mystery. Probably an overdose of cut-and-paste.

Rubbish answer no. 2:

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we are unable to re-collect your green wheeled waste bin as it was listed as Bin Not Out for the day of collection and the crew are unable to return. However; I have requested your next scheduled collection to be ensured, to avoid another missed collection.
Mr Mustard's response: You cannot re-collect something that you have not collected in the first place. The way in which bins are listed as Bin not out (is it underlined because the customer might be a bit slow on the uptake?) is that the driver of the lorry has a clipboard and he drives along with it sometimes balanced on the steering wheel and ticks a list of which bins have been collected and then probably ticks every other box as Bin not Out so if he makes a mistake it is automatically the customer's fault. As an Advanced Motorist Mr Mustard is not at all keen on the attention of the driver of a lorry being diverted away from the road by an administrative task. Why does the bin need to be listed to be ensured a future collection? surely the fact that the resident puts their bin out should be enough to ensure a collection?
As it happens Mr Mustard saw the bin out the night before collection was due and as this is a terraced house with a small front garden and a very low wall the bin is blindingly obvious to anyone who cares to look for it.
Mr Mustard would be very pleased to receive any further examples of unsatisfactory letters from Barnet Council in respect of collection of any type of bin. These two came from Chief Executive Services although I think that means the Chief Executive's Service.
The council policy approach seems to be you can't prove we didn't take your bin, the crew say no, so the customer is a liar. A most unsatisfactory approach; people don't complain for fun but because there was a problem and not with themselves. Mr Mustard's bin happens to be under video surveillance at all times so any failure to take his bins is backed up with proof. If you are having trouble get your video or phone camera out, complain and demand the service for which you pay plenty of council tax i.e. for immediate collection of the bin.
Yours frugally
Mr Mustard

21 October 2012

Screenings : the Billion Pound Gamble

If you can't make the screening on Monday 22 October at the Phoenix then more options are below. The main showing at the Phoenix is only £1 and all the others are free. For the forerunner to this film, A Tale of Two Barnets, you could buy a CD for £3. It will probably be the same this time.
Tues 23rd Oct.7.30 pm
Wyburn Room at Wesley Hall, 
Stapylton Road, 
High Barnet, 
EN5 4JJ   

Thurs. 25th Oct, 7.00pm
The Larches, 
Rectory Road, 

Sat. 27th Oct     2.30 - 4.00 pm
New Barnet Community Centre,
Victoria Road, 
New Barnet, 

Thurs. 1st Nov.   6.30 pm
Cafe Buzz, 
High road, 
North Finchley, 

Tues 6th Nov  - 8.00 pm 
North Road Community Centre,

Book Launch - Saturday - Local authors

19 October 2012

Barnet Alliance for Public Services wraparound

click to enlarge, back to return

You can browse the local Times paper on this link.

A blind date with Richard Cornelius.

No Plan B

So towards the end of the clip you will hear, if you can blot out the heckling, Richard Cornelius say that there isn't a plan B because there have been other plans considered and not adopted. 

The heckling does include one telling remark that in-house bids have not been considered which is incredible; to discount an option without even considering it. If nothing else leads to a Judicial Review of the One Barnet madness, that will.

 Blind Date

Do you remember this amusing show? A quick recap.

The show had a format similar to the show known in Australia as Perfect Match or in the US as The Dating Game. Three singles of the same sex were introduced to the audience. They were then questioned by a single of the opposite sex, who could hear but not see them, to choose with whom to go on a date. Before the decision 'Graham' (replaced on the final series by Tommy Sandhu), who was never seen, gave an amusing reminder of each contestant. The couple then picked an envelope naming their destination, although the "random choice" was fixed as all envelopes contained the same destination. The following episode showed the couple on their date, and interviews with them about the date and about each other. Locations ranged from Bognor Regis or a date in an ice cream factory to Anguilla or the Maldives.

If Richard were to appear, after he had heard the first two girls Amanda & April, say, (options A) he would choose one and not hear the third girl who sounded like the girl next door, Belina.

Where do you suppose the destination envelope will take us all with Richard? It isn't going to be an office block in New Southgate, Mr Mustard's money is on an outsourcing centre in Bangalore. Exotic and apparently cheaper but dearer in the long run.

His blind date Miss April, exotic and alluring during the courtship, now refuses to do certain acts as they weren't agreed during the show, and keeps asking for more and more money to keep their relationship on track. The relationship ends in bitter recriminations and an expensive divorce.

Richard returns, batter and bruised by his blind date experience, to the girl next door and all live happily ever after.

Cue audience applause.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

18 October 2012

Flawed Council Tax Consultation

Changes are afoot in Council Tax support which have been driven down to local level by the government along with a 10% funding cut. Speaking purely as a debt collector it is a stupid policy to try and get people on low incomes to give some of it to the council when they are struggling to feed themselves.

Barnet Council are consulting, in so far as they consult about anything, and they have done it in a biased way. They have produced options where cuts could be made and of course most people will blindly follow the suggestions. You need to throw the consultation questions in the bin and start with a clean sheet. Mr Mustard has written and a few days still remain for you to do the same. Feel free to borrow any of Mr Mustard's points that you agree with.

The Guardian seem to agree with Mr Mustard. It is not a good idea to try and get poor people to pay small amounts of money. It just isn't practical.

Send your thinking here.

Dear Sirs

I have read your consultation document of 24 October 2012 which I believe to be flawed.

It is predicated on the assumption that the desired budget savings all have to come from reducing the amount paid out to claimants. This is not the case. There are two other options.

1. You could maintain CTS at its current levels and increase Council Tax. That is after all the point of Council Tax. We all pay in so that a safety net is provided to those, who for whatever reason, need the help of society to have the necessities of life.

2. You could cut other items of spending such as on Consultants.

2a. You could become more efficient. I now hold an email in which a council officer says they are prepared to "pay any price" for a certain service to be provided. That bespeaks of wanton waste in council offices.

In so far as your features are concerned I comment as follows, using your numbering.

Feature 1. Removing exemptions and discounts for empty properties and second homes, and charging a premium on properties left empty for 2 years+.

An empty property makes very little call upon the services of the council and so for it to have a discount is entirely reasonable so I am not in favour of this being taken away. Occupiers of second homes call upon the services of two authorities at different times and a discount of 10% is quite low compared to the average 50% decrease in demand from such occupiers so I am not in favour of any change here. I recall that you sent me a survey form in respect of empty properties. I did have a property empty for 3 years as it took me two years to get the council to agree the slope on the rear roof (you have no policy about elegant mansard roofs and are content to led hideous looking dormers spring up all over the borough) and then another year to completely rebuild the house. During that time I was occupying and paying Council Tax at the adjacent property and I am sure that similar situations occur and that there is a good reason for long-term empty properties to remain empty. If you published the results of that survey I would be pleased to be sent a link to them. I am not in favour of any chance here either. I would prefer the focus to be encouraging people with a carrot to bring properties back into use not to hit them with a financial disincentive (the stick).

Feature 2: Working age claimants will be required to pay a minimum contribution to their Council Tax.

This is the most ridiculous idea. The examples in Appendix C show that a person on Jobseeker's allowance might have to pay some council tax because they happen to be of working age. Council Tax Support is about your financial needs not about how old you are. I am absolutely against this feature not just because it isn't very logical but also because the administrative cost of collecting small amounts will be so high compared to the sums involved. The system should be based upon financial need.

Feature 3: Removal of the second adult rebate for working age claimants.

Some worked examples of this would have been helpful. It sounds unfair to change this.

Feature 4: Reducing capital limits.

I note that people going into care homes are allowed to retain up to £23,250 and therefore a reduction in respect capital savings of a different type of societal support from £16,000 to £8,000 is a move in the wrong direction.

Feature 5: Limiting the level of support for higher banded properties to D or E.

Somebody who used to be quite well off and has fallen on hard times will try and hang on to a home that might have been theirs for decades. They happen to need support which might only be for a few months to a year. They will also have other bills which are greater for light and heat as the property is large and so all you will do with this proposal is run up unpaid Council tax debt. If the person has a low income then they won't be able to afford to pay Council tax whatever size house they are in. I am against this proposal.

Feature 6: A simpler system of non-dependant deductions.

I am all in favour of simplification. I have looked at Appendix D. I am not in favour of making adults in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance (not "Job Seekers Allowance" as it appears in the consultation document) pay more, or those who are working less than 16 hours per week, or those on maternity, paternity or sick leave.


In summary therefore I am against all of your options as I think you have started from completely wrong financial and moral standpoints and are running a flawed consultation.

Note: page 3 of the consultation document contains an email address to write to of CouncilTaxSupport@barnet.gov.uk from which my response was rejected.

This is the correct email address.

Also of concern is that people whose benefit will be cut will only know this in March, when their Council Tax bills come out for April.

That does not give people much time to find an extra £5 a week (or whatever) from the limited income that they must only have in order to qualify for council tax benefit.

Update: Here is what our own Lord, Lord Monroe Palmer had to say on the subject in the House of Lords (Monroe makes, as usual, perfect sense)

My Lords, I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, say in debate on the previous amendment that we must stand up for poor people. That is what I, in supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Best, ask noble Lords to do today. I hope that noble Lords from all sides of the House will do that.

Like other noble Lords, I welcome the £100 million. It is good, but it is transitional. It is good for this year, but it is not the solution for the future.

Points were made about the collection of small sums from people who could least afford it. Comparisons were made with the suggestion that a single-person discount should be varied if the local authority concerned wished to do so. Perhaps noble Lords should look at the simple arithmetic. Let us say that someone who is paying council tax lives in an authority where the council tax is £1,000 per annum. I will keep the figures simple. With a 25% discount, the single person will have a bill for only £750. If the local authority changed the 25% to 20%, instead of having a bill for £750, the council tax payer would have a bill for £800.

If their house was more valuable and highly rated, for example at £2,000, the council tax payer who got a 25% discount would pay £1,500. Under the 20% solution of the noble Lord, Lord Best, they would pay £1,600. One does not have to break one's brain to see that they would accept this. They would probably not even look at the calculation. They would see that on a bill of £1,000 they were paying £750 and now have a bill for £800. Perhaps they would realise that they had a bill for an extra £50. However, they are used to paying council tax, which does not normally stay the same every year. On £2,000 the bill would be £1,600 rather than £1,500.

This is money that local authorities such as my own, Barnet, would find pretty easy to collect. They collect it from those who are used to paying council tax. They may not like council tax-who likes it?-but they know that they have to pay it. Let us compare that with people who have not paid council tax. My noble friend Lord Jenkin said the situation was rather like that of the old community charge and poll tax. These people will suddenly get a bill because they will not get the whole of their discount. The bill could be £1 or £5 per week. How difficult will it be for any local authority to collect the small sums-and how will that be, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, standing up for poor people if those poor people have to pay that sum of money in what is already a hard society at the moment?

We have yet to hear from noble Lords on the Labour Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Best, suggested that they were against this change. My noble friend Lord Tope said that it would be inexplicable if they were. I try to see why they might have that attitude-if indeed they do. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has changed his mind. If they do have that attitude, I ask why. The only solution I came up with-perhaps it is cynical-is that they want it to fail, and poor people to suffer. I cannot believe there should be a political motive to make people suffer to make a political point when the aim of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best, is to protect poor people. I support the amendment.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard