As the government warns that local authorities have “a moral duty” to freeze council tax, Channel 4 New hears from the housing minister and a Conservative council leader who disagrees with him.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles warned English councils they risked voters’ anger if councillors ignored ministers’ offer of a one-off handout to cover shortfalls created by the proposed council tax freeze.
His call came as it emerged 15 local authorities plan to defy the government, despite voters grappling with a squeeze on finances amid rising unemployment.
Mr Pickles said today: “Freezing council tax is practical help every councillor can offer their constituents.
“A vote against the council tax freeze is a vote for punishing tax-rises and Labour’s opposition to the policy shows their contempt for hard-working households.
“Local taxpayers will remember that decision next time they cast their vote at the ballot box.
“Councillors have a moral duty to sign up to keep down the cost of living. Anything less is a kick in the teeth to hard-working, decent taxpayers.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged £1bn to help English town halls freeze the levy, but councils claim they would still face a shortfall despite the extra money.
Local authorities can snub the offer but must hold a referendum if they want to hike council tax by more than 3.5 per cent.
Whitehall figures show 142 English councils have so far agreed to freeze the levy, but others say raising council tax is the only way they can protect services with cuts in central government grants.
Conservative-led Surrey County Council plans to ignore the government’s call.
Its leader David Hodge told Channel 4 News he has to decide what’s best for local residents: “I’m not prepared to create an unstable base to interfere with our long-term financial planning.
“We have to look to the future.”