Many English councils plan to increase tax, survey suggests

Council tax bill
Image caption The government has provided funding for local councils to freeze tax demands

Almost a third of all English councils plan to increase council tax next year despite a government cash incentive to freeze it, a survey suggests.

According to the research published by the Local Government Chronicle, Conservative-run county councils are most likely to be considering a rise.

Ministers said councillors faced a choice between helping with the cost of living or increasing local taxes.

But 75% of the county councils which responded said they planned a rise.

Out of 354 councils, 154 responded to the survey. 53% said they would accept the extra government funding on offer - equivalent to a 1% council tax rise.

On the other hand 32% said they would not accept the funding and were considering a rise - likely to be up to 1.9% since a rise of above 2% requires a referendum. 15% said they did not know.

Of 27 county councils, 12 responded to the Local Government Chronicle survey, and nine of these said they would reject the extra government funding.

Two said they would accept the government's funding and agree to freeze taxes for two years, and one did not know.

'Challenging circumstances'

David Hodge, chairman of the County Councils Network and leader of Surrey County Council, said counties faced a "particularly challenging set of circumstances".

He said that demand for services - such as adult social care - was rising, roads had "taken a hell of a hammering" and were costly to repair and there was a "major shortage" in school places.

"Central government has a choice - they can either support councils in meeting growing demand pressures via direct support or by giving councils the flexibility to raise taxes locally," he added.

"We are already finding it difficult to ensure our books balance."

But Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said he would "encourage every council" to take up the offer of funding, which would be paid in financial years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

"Over the last three years, the government has worked with councils to cut council tax by 10% in real terms," he said.

"Extra funding is on the table for councils to freeze council tax for another two years.

"There is a clear choice for councillors: extra help for hard-working people with the cost of living, or higher state taxation to fund more council administration."

Hilary Benn MP, Labour's shadow local government secretary, said: "Councils are struggling to fund services such as help for our elderly, libraries and children's social care.

"Hard-pressed families around the country who are struggling to make ends meet can now see just whose side the prime minister is on."

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