Council Tax

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 March 1993.

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Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon 12:00, 24 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is taking to ensure that council taxpayers know the level of tax charged by each tier of local government in their area.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Minister (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

The main way in which people will learn of the different precepts set by the different constituent local authorities is through their bills. I have a sample bill which makes very clear the amounts being charged by the county and district, respectively, any discounts which apply, and finally the amount that the individual or household is required to pay. I hope that my hon. Friend's constituents will find their bills clear. They will know who has imposed the charges and—from what they read in their local papers—who is delivering the goods.

Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a difference of £108 between what a householder in an average band C house would pay under a Labour-controlled and under a Conservative-controlled council? Needless to say, the difference is in favour of the Conservative council. Is there a lesson that my hon. Friend would like to draw to the attention of those who will be voting in the county council elections in May?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Minister (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

Indeed—they will get better value for money and better services at a realistic price from Conservative councils. My hon. Friend may like to know that Thamesdown, a Labour borough, imposes a £94 band C district charge while the adjacent Conservative authority of Salisbury charges £41—notwithstanding the fact that Salisbury receives less grant than Thamesdown.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts , Sheffield, Attercliffe

Does the Minister accept that comparisons involving the use of band D, band C or any other band are wrong? The only comparison that should be drawn is between the average council tax for whole areas. If there are two similar authorities with the same average council tax, the authority with more lower-band properties will automatically have a higher council tax for any given band. That is the truth of the matter. Generally, it is Labour authorities that have more lower-banded—that is, cheaper—properties. Is it not time that Conservative Members stopped using fiddled figures to try to justify their own inadequacy?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Minister (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

The Opposition do not understand a thing about how the system works. Labour authorities that have more lower-banded properties get a lot more grant to compensate for that. Contrary to Labour Members' allegation that the fraud is that Labour authorities get too little grant, those authorities get much more grant to compensate. The correct comparison is between band D and band D and between band C and band C. On those comparisons, Conservative authorities win every time.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles , Brentwood and Ongar

Has my hon. Friend noted the trend in local government spending whereby the highest council tax in a shire, a district, a metropolitan district or a London borough is to be found in a Labour authority and the lowest council tax in a shire, a district, a metropolitan district or a London borough is to be found in a Conservative authority?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Minister (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

My hon. Friend is quite right. There is Newcastle at £704 and Wellingborough at £218, Greenwich at £696 and Westminster at £262—in each case, the higher amount is charged by Labour and the lower amount by the Conservatives, even though more grant goes to the Labour authority and less to the Conservative one.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

The Minister is not telling the whole story, as he well knows. Will he stop picking bands C and D to suit his case and accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) has said—that what matters to people are the bills that come through their doors? Is he not delighted to hear that the average precept in the eight Labour shire counties is running at £6 lower than the average precept in Conservative counties, and that the latest survey by the Local Government Chronicle of all 363 tax-raising councils in England shows that the average bill per household is running at £493 under Conservative councils and at £479—£14 less—under Labour councils? Is the Minister aware, therefore, that Tory claims about the council tax are as worthless as Tory claims about value added tax and that Labour councils cost less and give a great deal more?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Minister (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, does not understand the system any more than his Back Benchers understand it. He is wrong on every count. Labour authorities get more grant and charge more, property for property, in the same bands. That is the relevant comparison. The hon. Gentleman is simply drawing attention to the fact that Labour authorities get more grant than Conservative authorities get.