As night follows day, so the Tories have used the opening weekend of their annual conference, to once again announce a bribe to councils if they ‘freeze’ council tax next April.
The bribe is nothing more than a political sleight of hand. It’s actually a cut veiled in a handout. Let me explain. Since the first year, the payments have been one offs. This means the amount doesn’t end up in your budget base for future years. So you can’t use the money for recurring spend – like ensuring bins are emptied.
So as inflation makes paying for the services we provide more expensive, if the money isn’t in the base for future years, this bribe is actually a cut to our budget for services in future years. This is now the third time the Government has done this.
But this year there is worse to come than this thinly veiled cut to councils.
Because next spring, what Osborne hasn’t told you, is that millions of people will have a massive rise in their council tax bill. Every single one of them will be among the lowest paid and poorest in our communities. Many of them will be paying the tax for the first time.
Only the better off will benefit from Osborne’s freeze.
In April 2013 councils become responsible for council tax benefit. But the money to pay the benefit is being subject to a 10% cut before it is passed on to local authorities. And the majority of local authorities will have little option but to pass it on to their residents. So people in receipt of the benefit – the thing that Tories under Thatcher said set the tax apart from the poll tax – will face a massive hike in council tax. Many will be paying the tax for the first time.
Council tax is an in work benefit. So many people who struggling in the lowest paid work will face a further pressure on their household bills. If you have a look at Camden’s consultation you’ll see some examples in the background document based on real Camden cases. Normal people, just trying to get by in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
We haven’t decided which scheme to go for yet but far from a freeze many of Camden’s lowest paid and least well off will face a massive rise in Council Tax while the Tories shout freeze.
Sarah Hayward is the leader of Camden Council