Council tight-lipped on freezing tax bills
CITY council leaders are refusing to be drawn on whether they will accept the Government's offer to fund a tax freeze next year – because they are still waiting for instructions on how much more they will have to cut.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles revealed at the Conservative Party conference that the Government will pay councils to freeze their tax bills for a third year running in 2013/14.
But Stoke-on-Trent City Council said it cannot make any judgment about the offer because the Government has failed to reveal how much more funding for councils will be cut ahead of next year's budget.
The Labour-run authority snubbed last year's tax freeze incentive and imposed a 3.49 per cent increase – a £26.60 rise to £788.97 for Band A properties.
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Last year's incentive was equivalent to a tax increase of 2.5 per cent and was accepted by the vast majority of local authorities.
This year's tax freeze grant would be equivalent to an increase of just one per cent.
Council leader Mohammed Pervez criticised the Government's 'limited' announcement, adding: "We'll look into it. We are still yet to receive details about the local government grant settlement for 2013/14.
"The level of settlement will be critical in assessing the council's overall financial position going forward. We will consider the situation in line with our funding."
Conservative-controlled Staffordshire County Council has announced a tax freeze for 2013/14 and claims to be investigating how it can reduce tax bills in future years.
Last year the Government imposed a 3.5 per cent cap on tax increases and warned councils they would have to hold a referendum to win approval for more than that.
Under the plans unveiled at the Tory conference, local authorities planning to increase council tax by more than two per cent next year will have to hold a referendum.
Mum-of-two Melissa Turner, aged 35, of Fenton, said: "They are shutting down services all over the place. We should be paying less because we are now getting less. A tax freeze is the very least we should expect."
The Treasury said the Government will set aside an extra £450 million to help freeze council tax bills in England.
The Government claims the freeze will provide relief for hard-pressed families. Critics say the benefits are offset by major cuts in Government funding, which councils are passing on to residents.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Mr Pickles said: "Freezing bills again will really help hard working families and those on fixed incomes."
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "We have to be clear this is a short-term offer. It doesn't address the huge long-term pressures councils are facing includinbigger cuts than any other part of the public sector."