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Tories warn of Welsh council tax rises

Eric Pickles claims Labour's actions in Wales are a warning to England Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

The Conservatives are accusing the Welsh Government of actively encouraging big council tax rises next year. The tax has been frozen by the Scottish and Westminster governments but annual increases are allowed in Wales, where tax levels have historically been lower. The UK minister for English local government, Eric Pickles, claims that what's happening in Wales is a warning to voters in England.

Labour haven't learnt their lesson. If anyone needs an example of why Labour can’t be trusted with the interests of British people, this is it. After presiding over one of the worst economic crises in living memory, Labour’s answer to everything is still more borrowing, more spending and higher taxes.

– Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles MP

Welsh councils face an average cut of 3.4% in cash terms in their main source of income -the support grant from the Welsh Government. When he announced the cut, Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews refused to say by how much he expected the tax to rise. However, he told councils that the Welsh Government remains "flexible" about increases.

In setting council tax levels for 2015-16, I urge local authorities to think seriously about the funding challenges they face and to balance this with a consideration of the financial burden on households. We offer considerable flexibility to authorities in Wales which is not available to their counterparts in England, where restrictive freezes apply.

– Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews AM

Ultimately, Welsh council tax rises are nothing to do with the Westminster Government but it's inevitable that Conservative Ministers preparing to fight a General Election will make much of this issue as they have of comparisons between the Welsh and English health services.

Tories accuse Welsh Government of backing 'town hall tyranny'

The Conservatives have renewed their attack on the Welsh Government for not following Westminster's example and defining the public's right to report, film and tweet what happens in local council meetings.

This time the criticism has come from a Tory party official after complaints from Cardiff Bay that an earlier letter from the Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, was 'entirely inappropriate' and showed 'astounding ingnorance'.

The Labour Administration in Wales is openly opposing the right for journalists and bloggers to tweet, film and report meetings. It is obscene that Welsh bloggers are being handcuffed and arrested in Wales for reporting meetings because they don't have the legal rights that English bloggers now have. No amount of bluster can disguise the fact that the Labour Party are the enemies of openness and on the side of town hall tyranny."

– Conservative Party Vice Chairman Bob Neill

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Minister accuses Pickles of 'astounding ignorance'

The Local Government Secretary has been accused of 'astounding ignorance' by his Welsh counterpart. Lesley Griffiths has written to Eric Pickles after he criticised the Welsh Government for not following his lead in taking action to protect the right to report, film and tweet local council meetings.

In the letter Ms Griffiths says it was 'entirely inappropriate' for Mr Pickles to intervene on a devolved matter; that it was 'discourteous' to make the letter public and that it was an 'extremely surprising and totally unacceptable interference by the UK Government in the Welsh political sphere.'

The letter, which was also copied to the Secretary of State for Wales, has been seen by ITV Wales and marks an escalation of an already bitter row between the two departments and comes on the day the Welsh Government described relations with Whitehall as 'sometimes frustrating.'

  1. Nick Powell

Welsh freedom of speech "suppressed" -UK Minister

A UK cabinet minister says he's concerned that freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed due to inaction by the Welsh Government. Eric Pickles, who's responsible for English local government, has released a strongly-worded letter he's sent today to his counterpart in Wales, Lesley Griffiths.

It has become clear that there is now a gulf between what local taxpayers bloggers and journalists can do in England and Wales. Welsh councils are routinely blocking people's right to report or film council meetings, leading to the high profile case of a local campaigner being handcuffed and arrested in Carmarthenshire for trying to report a council meeting.

I am concerned that freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed and as a result, waste corruption and incompetence is potentially being covered up. It is disappointing that the Welsh Government has not taken the opportunity to mirror the legal rights and practices that citizens now enjoy in England, and I would ask you to consider the case for enhancing openness and accountability in Wales.

– Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles MP

Mr Pickles has issued new guidance for the press and public on their rights to report, film and tweet council meetings in England, following new rules on openness that the UK Government brought in last year.

Although responsibility for local government is entirely devolved, the letter has been sent by Mr Pickles' Whitehall department, meaning that it's an official UK Government position, rather than just a party political attack by a Conservative on a Labour minister.