Tory MPs abstained on a motion put forward by Labour today against government plans that the opposition party says would “force local councils to increase council tax in the middle of a pandemic”.
The opposition day motion was approved in the House of Commons this evening as the government did not instruct its MPs to participate in the vote. It passed with 210 votes in favour and none against.
Opposition day votes are non-binding on the government. Boris Johnson has begun ignoring the motions as Theresa May did as Prime Minister, though Johnson has a majority of 80 in the Commons.
Labour used its latest motion to highlight the issue of council tax rises expected to take force in many places across the country from April, and to urge ministers to provide funding to local authorities instead.
It was announced last year that English local authorities would be allowed to raise council tax by an extra 5%, including 3% for adult social care. Labour highlighted then that the hike was over twice the rate of inflation.
Under the proposals in the comprehensive spending review, Labour says families in Band D will face an average rise of £93, and the rises will hit people hardest in the North West and North East of England.
While local authorities are not directly obliged by central government to up council taxes, they are under significant pressure due to social care and have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The opposition has argued that council tax hikes this year will hit families at the worst time, as the Britain experiences the worst recession of any major economy and the coronavirus furlough scheme is withdrawn.
In the debate this afternoon, Labour’s Steve Reed said it was “economically literate to push up taxes while the economy is in crisis” and “dishonest to trumpet the end of austerity” as councils will be forced to cut services.
The former Lambeth council leader and current Shadow Local Communities Secretary argued that the running costs of social care outstrip any increase in revenue and the Tories have “done nothing about that crisis”.
Polling by Savanta ComRes revealed today that 48% of English adults oppose councils being able to up council tax by 5% in April, while just 25% support the move, 22% said ‘neither’ and 5% ‘don’t know’.
Keir Starmer has described it as “absurd” that local government in England will need to “hike up council tax” when “millions are worried about the future of their jobs and how they will make ends meet”.
The Labour leader urged the Prime Minister to “make good” on his promise to support councils during the pandemic by helping local authorities and offering security to families “by dropping your tax increase”.
Local Government Association Labour leader Nick Forbes wrote in a piece for LabourList that “ministers are now refusing to cover the full cost of fighting Covid” despite promising to help them do “whatever it takes” during the crisis.
“That means most councils have no choice but to make cuts to services this year,” Forbes said. The Labour Newcastle City Council leader added: “Pay more, get less. That is the Conservative plan for 2021.”
There are 20 opposition days per parliamentary session, which allow opposition parties to set the agenda. Labour used opposition day debates last week to table motions on free school meals and Universal Credit.
Below is the full text of the Labour motion.
Government’s proposed increase in council tax
That this House calls on the Prime Minister to drop the Government’s plans to force local councils to increase council tax in the middle of a pandemic by providing councils with funding to meet the Government’s promise to do whatever is necessary to support councils in the fight against covid-19.