Budget Crisis and the Poll Tax

People carrying Militant plackards surrounded by police

Some of the anti-poll tax demonstrators, who numbered up to 250,000, make their way towards Trafalgar Square from Kennington Park, south London, on 31 March 1990.

The Community Charge, commonly known as the Poll Tax, was introduced in England in 1990, having been trialled for the previous year in Scotland. It was a fixed rate of local tax, charged per adult to fund local authorities, replacing the previous domestic rates charged per property. There was widespread opposition to this way of taxing, with protests, riots and people refusing to register and pay it. Ultimately this tax led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, and it was soon abolished once John Major took over, although the implementation of the replacement Council Tax wasn’t until April 1993.

The Left administration in Manchester found itself caught in a difficult position. Refusing to implement the new tax and set a level for it would simply end up with the Council being forced to do so by the Secretary of State. Yet local Labour Party supporters were actively campaigning against the Poll Tax, with slogans such as “Don’t Collect! Don’t Pay!” The trade unions and councillors were concerned if they didn’t collect the Poll Tax, the budget would be massively short, meaning job losses and cuts to services for Manchester people. Either way the people who were worst off would suffer. Meanwhile some chief officers were not co-operating with the councillors in trying to identify how the organisation could be restructured and cuts made without entailing forced redundancies.
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Implement or Oppose?
How to Set a Budget With so Many Unknowns?
Housing Finance Scandal
Problems with the Director of Personnel
The Budget Review Working Party
Negotiating with the Trade Unions
Review of the Organisational Structure
National Anti-Poll Tax Campaigns
Reflection

Appendices

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Editor’s Comments

The sub-headings were not in the original. There have been minor typographical and layout changes. I was unsure in some places whether parentheses within quotes were part of the quote or added by Kath. I did my best guess to make them clear. I have added a note to the Appendix 13A as well that I am uneasy about including this document, but have kept it in because it is a good summary of the issues facing the councillors at the time and it doesn’t feel to have anything in of a confidential nature. I found this chapter interesting because the Poll Tax was such a major national issue and so pivotal in Thatcher’s downfall, but also interesting to see how difficult it was for the councillors to set a budget. I’m sure it would have been difficult for every council across the country to some degree simply because of so many changes to the way their funding would be coming in and the uncertainties about how much they would receive.

Footnotes

[1] Initials from General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union – a general union from a number of amalgamations.

[2] Voids = empty properties

[3] National Union of Public Employees

[4] National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education

[5] Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, which was the result of a merger in January 1988 between the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS) and the Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Section (TASS).

[6] A very full and detailed description of the day can be found on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poll_Tax_Riots

[7] A McKenzie friend is somebody who accompanies a litigant in person to a court hearing to assist eg taking notes, helping to organise the documents.

[8] Editor’s note: not sure if the parentheses were in the original letter or have been added by Kath – assuming they were in the original.

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Further Reading

  • Community Charge (Poll Tax) on Wikipedia
  • ‘The poll tax riot 25 years ago was the day I woke up politically’ by Oliver King, Guardian 31 March 2015
  • ‘Poll Tax Riots Revisited – in pictures’, Greg Whitmore, Guardian 28 March 2015
  • ‘Poll tax papers show Margaret Thatcher ignored early rebellion’, The Week, 19 Feb 2016

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