1984 and all that

Forty years from the passing of the Rates Act, how relevant are the provisions designed to give central government control over the governance of local taxation and expenditure, asks Jonathan Werran.

In the terms of Hugo Young's contemporaneous history of Thatcherism, One of us, or indeed for today's Popular Conservatives, 1984 was not one of Orwellian Big Brother permanent war and domestic tyranny, but possibly the apogee of bold supply side reforms and success in taking the fight to the enemies of free market progress. It was a period of unalloyed Thatcherite ascendancy and legacy defining actions. From taking on the National Union of Mineworkers in the ‘Battle of Orgreave' and elsewhere in breaking the miner's strike, to the irresistible advance of the privatisation programme through the listing of British Telecommunications and transfer from government ownership, the year was epochal.

In local government, the battle continued to be waged against recalcitrant socialist town halls. The legislative frame had been set in part in the first Thatcher government through the passing of the Local Government Finance and Planning Act 1980 and the Local Government Finance Act 1982. These acts gave central government the power to fix spending limits for individual councils and remove central grants – which made up around 60% of an authority's income – for continued financial overspend. Punishment was real. Several councils ploughed on with their ongoing service programmes and raised domestic and commercial rates, and in return saw their general grant cut. By 1983, Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council (GLC) saw all its central funding removed.

Jonathan Werran

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