More local authorities look set to increase council tax

Council tax demand

It was meant to be the offer you couldn't refuse.

"If you keep your council tax frozen, we'll give you a grant equivalent increasing it by 1%."

Last year, the overwhelming majority of councils were persuaded. Out of 35 in the West Midlands, only three defied the government with council tax increases confined to Telford and Wrekin, Stoke-on-Trent (both Labour) and Lichfield District (interestingly, Conservative).

Just before Christmas, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told the Commons that councils had "a moral duty" to maintain the freeze next year as well, in order not go back to what he called the "years of hurt" when council tax bills had doubled under Labour.

But the signs are his blandishments may be less effective this time. In the West Midlands region 10 local authorities are considering a council tax increase in 2013-14: Birmingham (Labour), Cannock Chase (Labour), Coventry (Labour), Dudley (Labour), Herefordshire (Conservative), Lichfield (Conservative), Malvern Hills (Conservative), Tamworth (Conservative) and Telford & Wrekin (Labour)

So what has changed?

In the case of our largest authority - Birmingham - the answer is party control. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was replaced by Labour. But four of the other councils are Conservative-controlled, including Lichfield, which is expected to defy Mr Pickles for a second year.

The bigger difference is the increasing pressure on local authority budgets, and confirmation that the spending squeeze will last until 2017 at the very least.

Birmingham's Labour Leader, Sir Albert Bore says councils will be left with no option to decommission some services altogether. He says the government grants received by his council are being cut twice as sharply as the English average.

He calls it "The Jaws of Doom".

One jaw is the reduced spending power because of those cuts in government grants and the general condition of the economy. The other, the increasing demands placed on local authorities by the weakest and most vulnerable in the community who need their services most when times are hard.

"Big City" councils also have generally fewer revenue-generating opportunities than those in more affluent areas where fewer people depend on local services.

It all adds to the general sense of injustice

But the government is not alone in believing that many local authorities could do more to ease the burden they place on hard-pressed council tax payers.

In a recent interview on the BBC's Sunday Politics programme, the Conservative Leader of Staffordshire County Council, Philip Atkins, was adamant that many of them had a way to go yet in learning from private businesses how to do more for less.

Mr Atkins said more services could be merged across local boundaries such as in Bromsgrove and Redditch who share a chief executive.

But the more I hear of these exchanges, the more I see a bigger political picture emerging.

The government clearly want to bind local authorities into the UK deficit reduction process, to 'take their share of the responsibility' as ministers put it. But is it also about making sure the blame is shared. Devolved, even?

So the number of Conservative-run authorities planning council tax increases represents a serious challenge.

But Labour's leaders have a struggle of their own.

They are increasingly focusing on building-up their credibility on the economy in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, accepting that deficit reduction must continue into the next Parliament but devising ways of distributing the pain more fairly, they'll say, than the present government.

"Fairness" I predict, will be the political buzz word over the next two years.

Fairness to local authorities.

Fairness to council tax payers.

Or maybe just equal unfairness to everyone.

Patrick Burns Article written by Patrick Burns Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands

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  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Instead of hammering the usual victims with increased council taxes politicians should tackle harder targets. Clamp down on wealthy tax evaders, stop paying vast amounts of money to consultants and interpreters, and abolish giving public servants bonuses for doing their jobs. When politicians promise fairness for everyone they mean 'as long as it doesn't involve a lot of difficulties for us'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's ok for these MP's to impose council tax and pay freezes on local government yet last week on the BBC they were pushing for a 32% rise in MP's salaries. So much for we're all in this together.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I've had many years on and off as a parish councillor; the very bottom of the swamp.
    Why do we have the constant bombardment with glossy magazines, reports and advice, from councils, quangos, and other associated organisations? Either self congratulatory, or only of interest to a local govt nerd.
    And why can't officials attend meetings alone? Why in threes?
    Cut crap, not services

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "Or maybe just equal unfairness to everyone"
    Which is closer to the truth.
    The government wants to introduce son of poll tax.
    This is why benefit claimants are being told they will have to pay 20% as a minimum charge. Over a few years this will increase until it reaches the point where we end up back at Maggie's beloved "community charge". No probs with that as long as its based on ability to pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Walsall Lib Dem/Tory Coaltion also considering a council tax increase but they are not cutting the Council Tax benefit for the poor or closing anything (not from consultation anyway). The Council Tax cut grant from Govt is a Con and all they are doing as Nickjg says is to blame local govt, regardless of who running it, for all the bad in the world or at least UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Birmingham's Labour group should wake up and get on with cutting waste ...... I lost my job after 23 years working for BCC, I accept that jobs were needed to be cut to save money.... yet services that seem to hold power over all political powers in Birmingham such as waste management, seem to get away every time providing poor service ..... lets start looking at all services and get on with it

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The tenor of every coalition policy has been to shift blame, either to Labour, 'profligate' local or public services, hoping that, by the election they can blame councils for rising council tax, NHS staff for failures in the health service and teachers for the collapse of education- arms-length bodies will take the flack. They will claim private firms would do better, though they never have!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Move to Scotland where Council Tax has been frozen for 6 years and will remain frozen for another 4.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    seems to me that anything the government can't cope with is passed onto the local authorities to find a solution, so will only mean increases at local levels, either status quo prevails or should we not pay less at national level (income tax) if we are forced to pay more at our local level

    the economy will remain static as long as they tax us into poverty nowt left to spend

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    In the name of a fairer society it would be nice if some of these Council executives took a reduction on their six digit salaries to set an example to all the ratepayers; that we all have to do without things we used to have until we get out of these difficult times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The answer is to bring back taxes per person, not property, under Mrs Thatcher, my community charge bill was £273, my current council tax is about £1000. This time, however, such a community charge has to be based on ability to pay, unlike the last time, where I (on my £8000pa salary) paid the same as someone on a £50,000 salary living in the same borough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    As a public sector worker I've not had a pay rise for 3 years. I know others who have lost jobs and had to take lower paid jobs. Councils cannot expect people on frozen or decreasing pay to keep paying more. Presumably most council workers are public sector workers so the pay freeze should have been applying to them anyway.



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