Brighton and Hove council tax rise 'unlikely to be backed'

Image caption Brighton and Hove City Council could become the first local authority to trigger a referendum over council tax

Brighton and Hove City Council could be about to make history.

A meeting of the full council to vote on next year's budget doesn't normally hit the headlines, but next Thursday the council could become the first local authority in the country to trigger a referendum over its council tax.

After a two-year council tax freeze, the Green-led authority wants to increase the tax by 4.75%.

Earlier this month Communities Secretary Eric Pickles confirmed that any increase over 2% would require the council to hold a referendum.

He told MPs that 137 authorities had so far signalled their intention not to raise the rate of council tax for 2014-15.

Mr Pickles said a referendum could be held at "minimal extra cost or inconvenience" if it was conducted on the same day as European and local elections on 22 May.

'Council rebellion'

Officials at Brighton and Hove City Council estimate a referendum - even if it were held on the same day as the European elections - could cost as much as £900,000, including the cost of reprinting bills.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Green council leader Jason Kitcat wants to increase council tax by 4.75% following a two-year freeze

The cost may be hypothetical as it looks unlikely the proposed 4.75% will get the backing of the council. Even if the entire Green group back it - as expected - they only number 21 in total.

The 18 Conservatives have said they will oppose it. They favour a further freeze.

The 14-strong Labour group will also vote against it but said they would support a 2% increase.

And the one Independent councillor said she was inclined to vote against as she was concerned about the associated costs of a referendum.

Mr Pickles has insisted he was not seeking to set a cap and said he was "relaxed" about inflation-busting rises of 7% or more, so long as they were approved by voters.

He said: "I'm very relaxed if a council wants to go for 5%, 6%, 7% even more providing it gets the consent of its electorate."

'Authority undermined'

But, with the arithmetic stacked against the Green-led administration's plans to increase the council tax, it looks very unlikely that it will get the opportunity to put the proposed increase to he electorate.

That also may be the least of the council leader's problems as Jason Kitcat is once again facing a rebellion.

Last year a group of rebels failed in a bid to convince the then deputy council leader Phelim MacCafferty to stand against Councillor Kitcat in the party's annual elections.

But now they are looking to change the rules on how they elect the party leader which, if passed, could stop Mr Kitcat from winning a third term as the party's convenor.

A motion is expected to be presented to an extraordinary party meeting next week.

Party sources said the motion, which needs two-thirds support to be enacted, was unlikely to be passed.

So while there may be no immediate threat to Mr Kitcat's leadership, the situation again highlights divisions within his own party and undermines his authority.

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