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Local Taxation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 4th July 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 5:17 pm, 4th July 2005

I assume that the Liberal Democrats want everyone who comes to the Isle of Wight to walk there on water and then live in a tent. When they calculated the effect of their tourist tax, they did not allow anything for collection. Eventually, they were forced to claim that the tax would be only about £1 a tourist. How much would it cost to collect £1 from every tourist, but not from those who live on the Isle of Wight? I would imagine that it would cost more than £1 to collect that, so the poor benighted taxpayers of the Isle of Wight, had they been foolish enough—thankfully, they were not—to re-elect the Liberal Democrats to county hall, would have paid more to collect that tax than it would have raised.

The record of the Liberal Democrats on the Isle of Wight speaks for itself and it is reflected in Liberal Democrat councils up and down the country. They sold a property for £100,000 that was subsequently sold for £1 million, a loss of £900,000 to the taxpayers of the Isle of Wight. It was the Prince Consort in Ryde, in case anyone wishes to queue up for another property at such a price. They should bear in mind, however, that the new administration will take more care to sell things at their proper value. The Liberal Democrats also rented some office accommodation, called Enterprise House, for £300,000 a year and then left it empty. They built a lay-by for £250,000 and employed four chief executives in four years. They held a very successful pop festival, now in its third year, but they budgeted £30,000 for it in the first year and spent £380,000. They also tried to sell a property known as Northwood House, but they had to pay compensation to the prospective purchaser, because they discovered that they did not own the property after he had incurred considerable expenditure. That is the record of the Liberal Democrats in my constituency.

When the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, the former Minister, undertook his balance of funding review three years ago, the county treasurer predicted that the Liberal Democrats would have to put up local taxes by 11 per cent. to account for the loss of money that the Government would take away. In the event, the Government gave the council more money—unlike most Conservative councils—so I led an all-party delegation to meet the right hon. Gentleman. Out of his munificence, he took £1 million from Hampshire and gave it to the Isle of Wight. The total benefit has been £13 million over the past three years, but the reaction of the Liberal Democrats was not to increase council tax by 11 per cent., but to increase it by 14 per cent.

That is the record of the Liberal Democrats. If one spends more, one has to tax more. That is what drove the Liberal Democrats out of control after 20 years in county hall on the Isle of Wight and will doubtless do so elsewhere. It is said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well, I recognise that the local government funding system is to some extent broke, and needs to be fixed. If it is to be fixed properly, we need to identify the causes of the breakdown before we try to fix it. The cause of the breakdown, whether it is the Liberal Democrats locally or the Labour Government nationally, is trying to screw too much out of the taxpayer. We should all remember the message that if one spends more, one has to tax more.