Chapter 13 on the Implementation of the Poll Tax in Manchester is now online

Chapter 13 – Budget Crisis, The Poll Tax and Changes to the Council’s Revenue – is now online.

Summary of the chapter

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.

The City Party was being pulled in two directions over its official position on the matter, which was “to implement the Poll Tax while supporting a campaign of mass non-payment”, and emergency motions on different stances to be taken were coming in from CLPs and trade union branches. The greater the loss of Poll Tax income to the Council, the greater the consequent loss of jobs would be, so it was obvious from the start that the interests of the trade unions would be different from those of the Party.

Editor’s Comments

I have added a note to the Appendix 13A 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.

Further Reading

  • Chapter 13 – Budget Crisis, The Poll Tax and Changes to the Council’s Revenue
  • 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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