The Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has attacked councils in England who are not holding referenda on council tax rises as "dodging democracy" and "cheating taxpayers." Ministers want those rising it above 2% to hold a public vote on it.
Cambridgeshire is planning to increase council tax by 1.99%, which would avoid a local vote by a slither. The coalition has been urging local authorities to freeze the levy again this year, insisting a public vote should be held to approve any increase above 2%.
As councils publish draft budgets for next year, our council tax blog is keeping track of their council tax proposals. It already looks as though there will be more councils refusing the freeze funding and increasing council tax next year.
With several weeks to go until budgets must be finalised, we count 26 councils that have confirmed their intentions to increase tax levels.
We expect this number to increase in coming weeks. If we were betting people, we’d estimate around a third of councils will increase tax levels next year – somewhere around 100 councils.
The Local Government Chronicle (LGC) has supplied ITV News with its latest projections for local authorities' approach to council tax in the wake of Eric Pickles' funding attack, supporting predictions that a number look set to defy the Government.
The LGC said budget assumptions and funding proposals allow it to predict the council tax intentions of 74 councils, with the remainder of the 351 English councils still unknown. It said:
26 authorities are considering an increase of between 1.6% and 4.4%, though the majority will raise tax to 1.9%, keeping them narrowly within the Government's planned referendum threshold.
Two authorities, Hammersmith & Fulham LBC and South Holland District Council, plan to cut council tax. (Last year saw 35 councils opt for a cut by the decision deadline.)
46 authorities look set to obey Government calls and freeze council tax.
Asked about Eric Pickles' accusation that English councils are "cheating" the taxpayer with planned rises in council tax, David Cameron's official spokesman said:
The Prime Minister's view is that the Government has provided funding to support a freeze in council tax and it is very good news that around one-third of authorities have already indicated that they will do that. Obviously, the final decision is up to the councils themselves.
The PM's view is that it is right to do whatever is possible, within current constraints, for families. That is why the Government has provided funding for another year of a council tax freeze. If councils want to go further, it is right that that (becomes) a matter for their electorate.
Labour MP for Gateshead, Ian Mearns, has criticised Eric Pickles' accusation that English councils who raise a "stealth tax" by 1.99% in a bid to avoid the Government's 2% referendum threshold are "democracy dodgers".