Wales politics

Tories call for Welsh government to freeze council tax

The Conservatives say the Welsh government should follow the Westminster coalition and freeze council tax.

About £40m will be available to the Welsh government as a result of funding to help English councils freeze taxes.

But the money is not ring-fenced, so ministers in Cardiff could spend it on other things.

The Welsh government said it would decide how to spend the money in due course.

'Tightening belts'

Welsh ministers have consistently argued that council tax is lower in Wales than in England.

Chancellor George Osborne has told the Conservative conference that the UK coalition government will pay for English councils to freeze taxes if they limit increases in spending to 2.5%.

The £805m offer will be funded by efficiency savings.

Confirming there would be a knock-on payment for the Welsh government, Treasury Minister Justine Greening told BBC Radio Wales that the coalition had decided it was important to "put the money into people's pockets".

Tory Welsh local government spokeswoman Janet Finch-Saunders said: "We look to Welsh Labour ministers to confirm how they intend to spend their additional funding from Westminster to support Welsh pensioners and families with the daily cost of living.

"At a time when families across Wales are tightening their belts, Welsh Labour ministers need to do more to support council taxpayers whose bills have more than doubled during 12 years of Labour rule."

Andrew RT Davies, who made his conference debut as the Tories' leader in the Welsh assembly on Sunday, said it was "complete rubbish" to suggest that the announcement on a council tax freeze in England was an attempt to grab positive headlines for the chancellor.

He said returning "modest sums of money" saved to the taxpayer was the right thing to do.

The Welsh government said the announcement had come too late to be included in its draft budget, which will be unveiled on Tuesday.

Image caption Chancellor George Osborne says he has found £805m to help freeze English council tax bills

Funding for councils will be announced in the provisional local government settlement on 18 October.

A Welsh government spokesman said the English council tax announcement would give it almost £40m "and Welsh ministers will decide how best to use this funding in due course".

But he added the UK government had retained almost £400m in so-called end of year flexibility.

"Even with the funding announced today, we would still be short-changed by more than £300m," he said.

"That end of year flexibility funding could have been included within the Welsh budget to be announced tomorrow - but will now be used to subsidise council tax-payers in England. This is unacceptable."

He said the average council tax bill for a band D property was 19% lower in Wales than in England.

Meanwhile, David Cameron warned Conservatives in Wales not to fall out over cuts to the number of MPs' seats at the next general election.

Wales will lose 10 of its 40 parliamentary constituencies when boundaries are redrawn in 2015 under plans to make constituencies roughly the same size.

Although the boundary changes are expected to hit Labour hardest, sitting Tory MPs may find themselves competing for the same seat. Wales is losing a bigger share of constituencies than any other part of the UK.

At a private reception on Sunday, Mr Cameron told party members he did not want to hear of what he called "blue on blue" disputes, just "red on red" arguments.

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