UK Politics

George Osborne extends council tax freeze

Money to extend a council tax freeze in England to 2012-13 has been unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne.

The government cannot force councils to freeze bills but it is offering to give those that limit spending rises to 2.5% the money they need.

Money would also be offered to the Scottish and Welsh administrations, which will choose how it is spent.

The £805m move will be funded by efficiency savings but Labour said it would save people just £72 a year.

A similar pledge was included in the coalition agreement and resulted in all local authorities in England freezing or reducing their council tax bills in 2011-12.

'Not awash with money'

Mr Osborne, who is making his big speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester at about midday, had promised to freeze council tax for two years when the party was in opposition.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government was showing it could help families "where we can" in difficult times, despite the government not being "awash with money" as it tackles the budget deficit.

He said, halfway through the financial year, it was apparent Whitehall departments were going to spend "a little way short" of the £350bn expected.

"This is often the case but sometimes government has just sat on that money because it hasn't mattered so much. I think at times like this if we've got anything spare, we should spend it."

Scotland will get an extra £67.5m in its block grant but ministers are still deciding how to spend it. The SNP has already pledged to freeze council tax for five years.

The chancellor is under pressure to spell out detailed plans to get the UK economy growing again amid mounting criticism from Labour and senior figures in his own party.

He told the BBC he would also be announcing "major investment in cutting-edge science", involving the material graphene in high performance computing, as well as a programme to extend mobile phone coverage to six million people and transport infrastructure investments.

'Can-do attitude'

The government had "activist" policies on dealing with the deficit, keeping interest rates low and cutting corporate taxes and more investment in apprenticeships, he said.

He cited the increase in time an employee has to work before they can claim unfair dismissal as an example of how the government will lift the burden on business.

But in his BBC interview he reiterated that his "substantial strategy to deal with Britain's debts in a global debt storm" was essential to keep interest rates down.

Mr Osborne, who will leave the conference early to attend a meeting of European finance ministers in Luxembourg, also said a resolution to the eurozone crisis "would do more to boost the UK economy than anything else in the world at the moment".

With business groups calling for further help, Mr Osborne said his corporation tax cut from 28% to 23% - announced in March's Budget - was a "real sign of our commitment to getting business growing."

The Institute of Directors has called for corporation tax to be cut to 15%.

And on Saturday senior Conservative backbencher Andrew Tyrie said the government was not doing enough to promote economic growth.

The bulk of Mr Osborne's plans will not be announced until November in the second phase of the government's growth review.

For Labour, shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie said: "Out-of-touch ministers don't seem to understand that people are struggling with rising prices and energy bills now, but this policy means no help for another six months.

"It would mean just £72 for a typical household, which is a fraction of the extra £450 a year the Tory VAT rise alone is costing a couple with children."

And Dave Prentis, head of the union Unison, accused the Conservatives of "playing to the gallery".

"They have found millions by making public sector workers tighten their belts. Workers who have had their pay frozen for two years and are being forced to pay more for a smaller pension. These workers are council taxpayers too."