May 19, 2011 by Nash Riggins
Every Council in Britain is being forced to make tough decisions in the face of the government’s ever-increasing national deficit. For many Councils, this means a desperate but warranted search for community revenues elsewhere; yet the Conservatives in Wandsworth, South London may have finally crossed the line.
In an effort to prepare for the £55 million in budget cuts that will take place in the borough over the next four years, the Wandsworth Council agreed last week that children between the ages of 5 and 16 must pay a fee of £2.50 every time they want to use playground equipment in the local park.
Really? I could not make that up if I wanted to. Granted, Conservative politicians in Britain construct their entire platforms based upon cost-cutting techniques, and are typically high-strung old men who hate the idea of anything as ‘common’ as fun; however, taxing children to play in a public park is a new low. Even the Chief Executive of the Council, Conservative Paul Martin, referred to this new legislature behind-closed-doors as a ‘fun tax.’
On a side-note, Mr Martin also receives an annual salary of £189,000 from the debt-stricken Council of Wandsworth which is about £50,000 more than Prime Minister David Cameron earns every year. In fact, over half of the Council officials in the London borough earn over £180,000 annually.
Meanwhile, approximately one in three people in the South London neighbourhood are living below the poverty line some of the area’s 12,700 children in the area don’t even know where their next meal will come from. Whilst the Council should be attempting to tackle these inner-city issues, their focus appears to be on maintaining their impeccable grounds.
Furthermore, the council leaders boast some of the lowest tax rates in Britain the staple of any Tory diet. Yet would it be so harmful to raise the Wandsworth Council tax to a more appropriate level instead of charging children to play in the park? On an unrelated note, the children of Wandsworth also happen to be well-above the national rate for childhood obesity in order to curb this issue, it seems counter-productive to create legislation that will most likely prevent physical activity. Yet to the Conservative-led Council, these hefty children are clearly just dead-weight until they are old enough to pay the council tax.
Until then, Council leader Eddie Lister reckons, the children must pay for what they use.
‘In these difficult economic times, it means we have to consider every aspect of the services we provide. The playground is very popular, but also very expensive to run. Introducing a pilot charging scheme at weekends will allow us to carry on investigating in the playground and continue providing the best value of money we can from our council tax payers.’
First off, I’d like to applaud Mr Lister’s honest word-choice. Only something as dastardly as charging poor children to use a swing-set for ten minutes can be referred to as a ‘scheme.’ If nothing else, this new legislature will only widen the social gap in areas like South London.
While £2.50 may appear to be a minuscule amount to a highly-paid council executive, the vast majority of parents in this underprivileged area are less than likely to fork over £2.50 so their children can use a slide for the afternoon. That is not to say, however, that a minority of more well-off children won’t pay the playground’s cover-charge, keeping the fees cemented in place. Meanwhile, underprivileged youth will watch the other children play on their expensive equipment from outside closed gates, inevitably finding other ways to pass the time many of which the Tories won’t find amusing or legal.
The Council argues that the fee is only ‘around half the price of a child’s cinema ticket,’ which could hardly render budget-balancing results. This begs the question: why bother? Assuming at least 40 children pay this ‘fun tax’ every single day of the year, the Council stands to produce around £36,500 in revenue. If Wandsworth Council’s Chief Executive is really so concerned about saving money, why not ‘take one for the team’ and reduce his salary down to at least what the Prime Minister of Britain makes per year? While they’re at it, the rest of the Council can do that same and reduce their salaries, too this would mean the community as a whole would come out £250,000 on top.
To be fair, I can’t feel entirely bad for the community in general, as a majority of some shape or form must have voted these monsters into office at some point. That said, instead of cutting the number of doctors and nurses in the NHS nation-wide, why doesn’t David Cameron look in his own backyard and trim some of the fat off of London Councils that, quite frankly, can’t afford to continue to be swindled by well-off old men who do not understand their own constituencies.