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The Daily Telegraph reports on a survey by the Local Government Chronicle which suggests that a third of councils are planning to increase the Council Tax next year.

According to the survey a majority of county councils – which have just had their elections safely out of the way – are planning tax rises. Yet the county councils have some of the greatest potential for extra savings. They could be doing far more back office work with the districts. County councils include in their remit children in care – an area which combines vast spending with disastrous results.

There are a couple of cautionary notes on the survey.

Firstly, the LGC likes to hype their estimate on this each year. They have an interest in doing so. It is not just the obvious journalistic motive to make the most of their story but also because the higher the Council Tax the more money to splash out on LGC award ceremonies and recruitment advertisements in the LGC for new bureaucrats with six figure salaries and esoteric job titles.

Secondly, the LGC survey is among council Finance Director’s asking for their proposals. It assumes that democracy has no part to play in local government and that the council leaders will meekly accept these Council Tax rises – then that the majority of councillors will then dutifully vote them through at their council meetings in February.

In some places the LGC may be right that the elected councillors are an irrelevance. But their approach is presumptuous to say the least. A survey of council leaders would have been more to the point.

The survey was anonymous – although the LGC names and shames Worcestershire as contemplating a rise of 1.8 per cent. That would leave them under the wire of 2 per cent threshold for holding a referendum. Buckinghamshire is even talking about holding a referendum to secure an increase above the threshold. That would be at least be an honest way to proceed as their residents would then decide.

There is not a council in the country that has stripped away all its unnecessary (or sometimes damaging) spending. Much progress has been made but the further potential is vast. No Conservative worthy of the name should be contemplating a Council Tax increase under these circumstances. This is not just an issue for Conservative councillors but for those who select them – and those who complain without offering to stand themselves.

 

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