[Update at end of post]
Today brings more “research” from the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), this time on the subject of Local Government pensions. The piece is headed, quite explicitly “New Research: £1 In Every £5 Of Council Tax Goes On Council Pensions”, and this is equally explicitly a blatant and deliberate whopper.
Admittedly, this is quickly qualified to “the equivalent of £1 in every £5”, but the headline, as the TPA’s staff well know, is what sets the mood and is what they are using to whip up prejudice. And anyone doubting that this is the name of the game need look no further than a piece of characteristically nasty knocking copy that is now available at Mail Online.
The Mail article effectively repeats verbatim the TPA claim, by telling “The total amounts to between a fifth and a quarter of the money paid to town halls by council taxpayers each year”, while trowelling on the news that a number of councillors are now enrolled in the Local Government pension scheme. These are described as “gold-plated town hall pensions”.
But are they? Councillors are on a “career average” deal, not a “final salary” one. So when TPA head non-job holder Matthew Sinclair says that such deals “have all but disappeared in the private sector”, he is being flagrantly dishonest. Career average schemes have been adopted by those well known heroes of the revolution now known as Nationwide, ITV and Tesco.
That, not surprisingly, does not detain the Mail, which rants about the “Gold-plated gravy train”, “punishing cost to the public”, and of course tells that this “provoked protests yesterday”, which would be interesting to have seen, given that the TPA report did not go live until after midnight. And what of that assertion that “£1 in every £5 of Council Tax goes on Council pensions”?
Thanks to the deeply subversive Office for National Statistics (ONS), we can see just how much Council Tax contributes to Local Government financing. In the year 2009-10, this was just 25% of revenue expenditure (and it is the revenue part of the budget from which pension contributions come). So that £1 should read 25p, and the TPA have been caught misleading by a factor of four.
Much of the other 75% may come from taxpayers by a variety of routes, but the TPA has asserted otherwise. This, together with misleading on career average pension schemes, takes this latest “research” down to the usual standard: as quantitative analysis it is effectively worthless.
But the usual suspects in the press have lapped it up, so that’s all right, then.
[UPDATE 26 January: the TPA has also got its propaganda into the Murdoch Sun and the Express. The Super Soaraway Currant Bun ("A fifth of Council Tax funds pensions") has conflated the issue with Trade Union facility time, and so has used a particularly unpleasant photo of Fat Eric to illustrate the piece. The TPA is also quoted directly.
The Express version ("£5Bn A Year Bill For Town Hall Pensions"), under the by-line of Macer Hall, merely parrots the TPA press release, with Matthew Sinclair claiming to be speaking on behalf of "ordinary families". The piece also summons up the mystical pension receptacle, the "pot".
The latter article also uses a grotesque mugshot of a leering Sinclair, which some viewers may find distressing]