Brighton's Green Party seeks council tax rise referendum

Council leader Jason Kitcat said the most vulnerable people were at risk from the coalition's cuts

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A referendum on a council tax rise of 4.75% to fund Brighton and Hove's adult social care services has been proposed by the city's Green Party-led council.

The proposal is in response to central government cuts, and would be the country's first poll on a budget rise.

Jason Kitcat, leader of the minority Green Party authority, said the cuts meant it could not deliver the services it was elected to provide.

It has the support of Green councillors but could be blocked by the opposition.

If Labour and the Conservatives both decide to oppose the plan, they could block it at a council meeting in February.

'Most vulnerable'

Under rules set by the coalition government, any authority wanting to increase council tax by more than 2% must put their plans to a local vote.

Since the 2010 General Election, several councils in England have talked about holding referendums, but none have actually done so.

The government has offered councils a cash incentive to freeze the tax, with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles previously saying they had a "moral duty" to do so.

The 4.75% rise would be used directly to fund adult social care services, including care for the elderly, and grants to third sector organisations.

Mr Kitcat said: "The coalition's cuts mean we cannot deliver the services we were elected to provide and which our consciences say we should provide.

"We have no choice but to seek the views of local people on funding these services through a tax increase."

Analysis

If Brighton and Hove were to hold a referendum, the government says it would be the first in England under the coalition's new rules brought in by the Localism Act (i.e. that any rise above a certain level - 2% at the moment - automatically triggers a vote).

Some councils have held broad consultations about how to respond to the reductions in funding, including questions about council tax.

Some councils have held referendums in the past on council tax - e.g. Milton Keynes in 1999, Bristol in 2001 and Croydon in 2001.

But since the 2010 election, several councils in England have talked about holding referendums - but none have actually done so.

He added: "We have so far been successful in saving tens of millions of pounds but we can no longer find enough efficiencies to absorb all the cuts.

"Without today's proposal, I fear for the serious impacts on the most vulnerable in our city from the coalition's cuts."

'Costly referendum'

Mr Kitcat said other parties would need to decide if "they trusted the people of Brighton and Hove to make this decision.

"The Green administration I lead did not seek an election mandate to raise taxes in this way and in previous years I have opposed going down this route.

"But the unprecedented pressure on our budget from Westminster can no longer be absorbed, so we are seeking a democratic opinion from local residents - those who pay council tax and those who rely on the services it funds."

Leader of the Labour and Co-operative Group on Brighton and Hove City Council, Warren Morgan, called on the Green Party to "set a realistic budget or quit".

He tweeted: "Residents of the city can't afford Tory cuts, but cannot afford a 4.75% increase when cost of living increasing above wages.

"A referendum will be lost, will cost the council a significant sum that could be spent on services."

Simon Kirby, Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven, branded the proposal "bonkers".

"We don't need an expensive referendum to know that residents in the city would prefer to see the city council tackling the waste and inefficiencies within the council itself before demanding even more money from local residents," he said.

In a statement, local government minister Brandon Lewis said: "This government has given local residents new powers to veto high council tax rises.

"We should trust the people.

"But Brighton's full council should also consider this government's council tax freeze offer - extra central funding is on the table for Brighton if it freezes council tax and helps hard-working people with the cost of living."

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