UK Politics

Councils 'dodging democracy' over tax rises, says Pickles

Council tax bill
Image caption The government has asked councils to freeze local taxes for a third year running

Some English councils are "dodging democracy" by not holding referendums on council tax rises, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.

Those not freezing council tax should "man up" and consult the public, he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

Ministers want a third year of council tax freezes, and have said those councils in England raising taxes by 2% or more must hold a public vote.

The Local Government Association said councils were under strain due to cuts.

In an article for the Telegraph, Mr Pickles said some local authorities were "cheating their taxpayers" and warned: "Anybody using loop holes will lose out next year."

He also described council tax as a "stealth tax".

'Reality check'

"The days of the knee-jerk tax and spend hike are over," he said.

He revealed that only about a third of councils had committed to freezing local taxes in the next financial year, despite government calls for restraint.

The government cannot force councils to freeze bills, but it has said they have a "moral duty" to do so rather than raise them in line with inflation.

Ministers have legislated so that any local authority increasing levies by more than 2% must hold a referendum and an authority which loses such a vote would have to revert to a lower increase in bills.

According to the Telegraph, some councils have taken legal advice and are planning to "increase waste and transport costs by more than the cap".

Others have opted to put up taxes by 1.99% - prompting the communities and local government secretary to denounce them as "democracy dodgers" who "need a reality check".

Mr Pickles said he was not opposed to tax rises that would "fund local opportunities", but said authorities must "be straight with people", and win over the public before implementing them.

'Quiet revolutionaries'

"If the public believes you've got a sensible case they might well listen. But councils should also stop treating residents with contempt."

He praised Essex and Greater Manchester councils, which he said had plans to "save millions by improving services".

"Authorities need to ask the right questions," he said.

"Are we doing enough to cut out the waste? Are we doing enough to innovate? Are we putting our people first? Then they will realise cash-strapped taxpayers don't deserve needless tax rises."

The secretary of state added: "A growing band of quiet revolutionaries are starting to heed our call."

Mr Pickles said that 115 councils in England will freeze council tax as of April, out of a total of 351.

Responding to the comments, the Local Government Association said councils had faced bigger cuts than almost any other part of the public sector and these are taking a toll on services.

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