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Property tax reform needs winners

If you listen to the more cynical commentators, politics these days is mostly about employing great timing to obscure bad judgement.

So with the economy taking a series of hits over supply chain woes, energy price hikes and inflation going in the wrong direction, how is this good time to be looking at reforming council tax in Wales?

It may not be on a par with that instance when Cardiff Bay ministers introduced a Regulation of Buses bill the same week that it was discouraging bus travel due to COVID concerns, but it’s looks pretty close on the surface.

Yet while seeming like a strange call, the underlying clue was not so much Monday’s headline which read “Council tax shake-up could be part of Labour-Plaid deal” but the one next morning which was about critical NHS staff shortages and a crisis in the care sector.

It’s likely that primary legislation with be required to tackle these key issues. The problem though is that Wales doesn’t have a majority government. Labour may be the single largest party in the Senedd but still needs support to get measures passed

The obvious source of backing on what’s called a “supply and confidence” basis would be Plaid Cymru.

As several pundits highlighted during the election, there wasn’t a huge chasm between the two parties in terms of aspirations. In some instances on social policy it looked like they had copied each other’s homework.

That’s not to say that anything like a formal merger is on the cards or that Plaid’s support can be presumed without a considerable amount of wheeling and dealing on both sides.

What’s needed in such cases is some practical outcomes that party leaders can use to show their respective parties – and the electorate - how seeking common ground post-election is for the betterment of the nation. Property tax reform represents low-hanging fruit in terms of policy achievements with the added bonus of being worthy of airtime from a media perspective.

Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru both promised to tackle inequities in their election manifestos. Labour’s aims talked about "reforming council tax to ensure a fairer system for all". Plaid wanted measures to ensure around 20% of households in the bottom fifth of income distribution would see their council tax bill fall by around £200.

It remains to be seen if the “ambitious co-operation agreement” since mentioned by

Labour leader Mark Drakeford includes the revaluation wanted by Plaid which would increase the number of bands at the higher end of the scale. The last council tax revaluation in Wales was undertaken in 2003.

So far the talks have been an exercise in expectation management while Conservative reaction has been muted to the extent of someone mumbling underwater.

That’s understandable given that the subject of taxation - personal or property related - is rather iffy territory for Tories right now.

The timing may not be great and the ability to deliver reform more challenging than either anticipate. Nonetheless, something that both parties can surely agree upon is that when it comes to reform, it’s a good idea to have more winners than losers.


Is the party over for conferences?

Party conferences have produced some great moments in political history. Over the years, momentous votes and crucial speeches have consigned parties to electoral triumph or oblivion – and occasionally somewhere in between.

During the last few decades though, and as politics has become less rarefied, the emphasis has shifted, with the focus less on strategy and more about showcasing.

Week-long epics packed with fringe events and social nights have shrunk to weekend gigs recently made even less engaging by soulless Zoom technology.

As for actual policy, it’s very much a top-down process across the board and you’re more likely to get the guts of what’s intended by watching a party spokesperson explain things on Newsnight.

For some, actually attending has become a matter of practicality. Sharon Graham, newly elected Unite trade union leader has opted not to attend Labour’s annual conference this coming weekend. Her view is that her time can be better spent elsewhere.

I sort of know what she means, but that doesn’t make her decision any less disappointing. It will be interesting to see her reaction if Unite members exercise the same sense of priorities when her own annual conference comes around.



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