6 SEPTEMBER 1975, Page 3

Rebel ratepayers

The GLC and various other local authorities have now sent out many thousands of summonses to those who have refused, either on grounds of principle or because they cannot afford, to pay their rates this year. Indeed, in many parts of the country a court process has already been gone through, and the bailiffs are daily expected. Nor are the ratepayers alone in their failure to obey the law: in the GLC area alone, 84,000 council tenants owe £2,639,000 in unpaid rent.

There are two quite separate issues involved in this staggering mountain of debt. Those who could pay their rates but refuse to do so as a matter of principle, usually because they disapprove of local authority spending policy, are clearly encouraged in their action by the regular defiance of the law which occurred in Clay Cross and other places during the lifetime of the last Conservative government. Neither the Labour Government nor Labour-controlled local councils are in any moral position to attack or criticise those who refuse to meet their legal financial obligations now, since they condoned defiance of the law before.

But there is another and more immediate practical point. Inflation has eaten ferociously into the capacity of perfectly ordinary and perfectly respectable families to make ends meet. At the same time many local authorities have been engaged in massive borrowing and massive spending for purposes which the inhabitants of their areas refuse to regard as reasonable. The lesson is clear: the cuts already arranged for local authority spending are obviously not enough, and further and more radical cuts must be made — especially in manning levels — if local authorities are to put their financial houses in order and regain the co-operation of their citizens.