Since 2012, when the Coalition introduced new provisions in for councils to exceed the cap on Council Tax rises by holding a referendum, only one such ballot has been held. Two years ago, the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner tried to increase the police precept in the county by 15.8 per cent – the proposal was defeated, with a 69.5 per cent vote against.
Now, for the first time, a council is going to try the referendum route to raise taxes. Surrey County Council has proposed a 15 per cent increase. It’s a move that Sir Humphrey would have termed “courageous”.
I can reveal that the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the non-partisan low tax campaign group, is gearing up to fight the referendum, and hopes to lead the official No campaign. The TPA was inspired in the first place by similar organisations in the United States that regularly fight such referendums, so is well-suited to such a campaign. In Surrey in particular it has long been a critic of the County Council’s financial policies, highlighting the allowances received by councillors and cabinet members on a number of occasions.
It’s an interesting development which could reveal some divides in the wider centre right movement. The question of where local Conservative councillors, activists and MPs fall on the issue will be interesting to watch. Philip Hammond, Jeremy Hunt, Chris Grayling, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove are just a few of the well-known names with Surrey constituencies.