What are "Councils" in Britain?

I love starting my day reading the Brit tabs online and while I’m up to speed on most of the jargon I’m a little lost when it comes to councils. Seems they’re always giving some resident grief over his rubbish bins or the size of his hedgerows or otherwise interfering the way no North American would tolerate. And what about council housing? What is it? Do councils only have authority over council housing? The Daily Mail has a story today about a council siezing a resident’s plasma tv. Seems like an awful amount of authority to give a local governing body.

A council (in this sense) is a local government organisation that provides services like trash collection, local road maintenance, libraries, schools and so on. Its members are elected by the people of the local area. In most cases the local area is a county, but it could also be a city.

Council housing is owned by said council and rented to local residents. The council is the landlord in this case, so they wouldn’t ordinarily have the power to seize someone’s TV. Maybe the tenant was behind with their rent, and the court ordered that their assets could be seized to pay the arrears?

Edit to add: Here’s the link to my council’s website, for the Scottish county of South Lanarkshire.

Local authorities (County/Borough/District Councils) have all sorts of responsibilities: schools, social services, waste disposal, road maintenance, environmental health, emergency services & planning, and so on. They’re run by an elected body of representatives, although only a minority of the electorate bother to vote, if it doesn’t coincide with a general election (not all councils are elected at the same time).

A lot of their funding comes from the Council Tax, which is levied per household according to the property’s (supposed) value, and councils have a limited degree of freedom in raising or lowering this. Other funding, particularly for statutory responsibilites such as education, comes from central government, and in these situations the authority has more of an adminstrative role.

Council housing is social or public housing, where the authority is the landlord. The term tends to be a reference to run-down estates, with all the social problems associated with impoverished areas.

I don’t know what the story is about the plasma TV, but if it was due to unpaid taxes or fines then it would have been via courts and bailiffs, and if due to environmental health concerns (i.e. excessive noise) then there’s a lot of steps they have to take before it gets that far. The Daily Mail doesn’t like to bother with such mundane facts, however.

I am no fan of the Mail (I’d much rather read a newspaper) but it does report some previous in this case, like so:


Wow - the Mail taking pity on benefit scroungers!!! Or does being on the sick not count any more, now times are hard?

It’s quite frightening how you seem to have founded an opinion on British councils based solely on believing what the British tabloids say about them. Effectively the tabloids will say whatever will elicit the strongest emotion from the average reader, and usually they aim for outrage. The average Daily Mail reader is very conservative and traditional, and it’s the most right wing mainstream paper in Britain. They’ll run as many stories as they can about excess immigration, speed cameras, increased taxes, the erosion of traditional British values and, as you say, councils - elected local authorities - meddling in people’s affairs.

The more outraged the story makes their readers, the better it is for the tabloid; so they’ll blow things out of proportion or spin stories in a way that takes them completely out of context. When our business secretary Peter Mandelson said last week that it was important for the UK not to fall for the lure of protectionism - by denying European immigrants the right to work on certain projects here - because it would lead other countries to take retaliatory measures against Brits abroad and cost them their jobs, then Daily Mail ran a headline along the lines of, ‘MANDELSON TELLS BRITONS TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY IF THEY WANT A JOB’. That kind of thing. Forming opinions based on the tabloids when you live in Britain is bad enough, but when you don’t live here (and hence can’t really get any other perspective on the stories) you’ll end up with completely the wrong idea on pretty much any British issue or story.

The added bonus of attacking councils is that for the average suburban middle-class Mail reader, the activities of local authorities go unnoticed. They don’t think that the guy emptying their bins is paid by them. The only time they care about the council is when them-next-door want to put up a conservatory.

(It’s amazing the number of times people have felt they can rant on at me about the council spending money on things they don’t have to, when (a) I teach their child, and (b) I teach them outside of statutory provision, i.e. the council could cut the funding with ease. Occasionally I manage to put them right, without stepping out of professional mode…)

That’s pretty snobbish, and not really accurate. In my experience, Daily Mail reader are just the types to know exactly what they are paying the council to have their bins emptied. And, I’m not sure if you actually pay council tax yourself, but it can be quite a substantial amount, well into four figures.

Incidentally, the article you refer to with the residents getting their TV confiscated: the owners of the TV are half-deaf so they listen to it on the highest volume, often long into the night. A court served them with a noise abatement order two years ago which they were found to have breached at least 8 separate times, and environmental health officers had to be called during one barbecue because the noise levels were so high. Eventually they received so many complaints the council obtained a court order giving them a warrant to temporarily seize the TV. It doesn’t sound particularly unreasonable to me and I’m sure if the same situation happened in the US there would be legal avenues for the authorities to do the same thing.

And as an aside, the gist of this Daily Mail story isn’t to elicit outrage about councils meddling in affairs it shouldn’t, it’s to elicit outrage about the “benefits family” who play loud drum and bass music all night. If you read the comments under the story every single response is pleased about the confiscation, and a lot of them actually complain that it took so long: ‘Good! … They should have shut up then. Benefits again… why has it taken the council three years to seize the equipment once a noise abatement order has been given?’.

Daily Mail article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1161183/The-sound-silence-confiscated-benefit-familys-62in-TV-plagued-neighbours.html

I had one interesting encounter with a car mechanic, after I’d been hauled in by the AA (not what you think, Americans). On seeing my ID badge on the dashboard: “Oh, so you’re who I pay my council tax to?” “You realise I pay the same?” “…silence…” There was no way they were going to overcharge me for the work that needed doing :smiley:

And this is a good thing. If you cannot refute it, then maybe they have a point. I say the same thing to right-wingers about the Guardian.

Being right-wing is not automatically wrong, nor is being left-wing. And reading the Daily Mail or the Guardian is not a cause for derision. Regrettably, I’ve encountered far more left-wingers who deride people for reading the right-wing press than right-wingers who deride people who read the left-wing press.

You mean like all those North Americans who VOLUNTARILY buy houses under the iron fist of “Home Owners Associations” ?

Refuting it isn’t the point, I’m not saying the Mail lies. What they do is exaggerate, spin, focus too much on one issue or not enough on another, as all newspapers do, but as the tabloids do to a much greater extent than broadsheets. Recently they took figures showing 1.3m out of 1.6m immigrants who’d come to Britain over a period of time had now left because of the recession, and headlined it something like, ‘300,000 immigrants STILL working in Britain despite recession’. It’s perfectly true but it’s a representation designed to elicit outrage amongst its anti-immigration readers and I’d say it’s not a very fair account of the story.

And on that point your comparison isn’t really fair either - the Guardian is a centre-left broadsheet, so of course its readers will be derided less than those of a firmly-right tabloid, because it’s closer to being impartial. There’s nothing wrong with reading the Daily Mail (or a firmly-left tabloid - I can’t name one off the top of my head) but the tabloids firstly run the risk of justifying or affirming a very narrow world-view amongst their readership, and secondly the fact that generating outrage is good for their sales incentivizes them to create scandals where there are none or make hate figures out of people who don’t deserve it.

Like this?

Actually the Council stuff is a bit more complicated than explained above.
Generally you get local/town councils and above them you get a county council. This means that the county council can do things that the local/town council says that it does not approve of - but cannot do anything to prevent.

Also ‘council tax’ is normally a relatively small proportion of total council expenditure, the bulk coming from central govt under the name of ‘Rate Support Grant’ - a small reduction in the RS Grant requires a large increase in the council tax to compensate.

It is astonishing how many services are directly supplied by councils, at times it has made me wonder what Central Govt is for.

Typically (in my experience) county/regional councils are unpopular with the electorate - mainly because the ‘electorate’ does not feel that things are being run for their benefit. Maybe that is because I’ve tended to live in places that consider themselves ‘Peter’ - as in ‘Rob Peter to pay Paul’.

Councils are very keen on revenue raising initiatives (ie: making you pay to park outside your own house), the money floats upwards so one seldom sees what one is paying for. The system is quite sneaky - a form of divide and rule.

One could make the same criticism of any form of taxation - does one ‘see what one is paying for’ with income tax, VAT, fuel duty, etc?

Oops I forgot about those. They’re not so prevalent here in Canada but I just returned from Florida where “deed restricted” communities are everywhere. Nice to visit but I couldn’t live under the iron fist.

Cheers for enlightening me folks. (I actually read the mail not for its conservatism but rather for its daily coverage of the shambolic adventures of Amy Winehouse)