Council Tax: Government’s Proposed Increase

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:48 pm on 25th January 2021.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government 3:48 pm, 25th January 2021

Yes, I am happy to withdraw it, Mr Speaker.

I will come on to the remarks of the LGA in a few minutes, if I may, but the hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways: he cannot say that he is unhappy that we have imposed a cap that provides limited flexibility for local councils to decide of their own volition whether to increase council tax or not, and that he wants the cap lifted altogether so councils can increase it without limit, which seems to be the consensus among his own local government leaders.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could check in with his own council in Croydon, a council that in its consultation response to the Department on last year’s finance settlement said:

“we are disappointed that the ability to increase locally determined Council Tax has been reduced and that” it

“can…only be increased by 2%”— directly contradicting the hon. Gentleman.

How are these councils actually performing?  Croydon is a council that has found itself in £1.5 billion of debt, the only council to go bust in 2020, following the collapse of its housebuilding company, Brick by Brick, which may not have proved to be very good at building, but did prove to be extremely good at owing people a lot of money. The problem is that Labour in local government today is a catalogue of failure, dysfunction and waste.

In Nottingham, the party opposite blew £38 million on a failed energy company and made 230 of its employees redundant over Skype, before rewarding themselves with a backdated pay rise. Robin Hood Energy, they described it. Well, Robin Hood stole from the rich, but Labour’s Robin Hood just stole from everyone.

Up in Durham, the council, at the height of the pandemic, approved a new 3,500 square feet roof terrace on its £50 million county hall. Merton Council reportedly set up a building company with a £2 million investment, only not to deliver a single home. The council leader said it was designed to make money, but he had built in—I kid you not—jumping off points. It turns out that there was no parachute for local residents. Labour Warrington has debts of least £1.6 billion. After Bristol City Council’s socialist energy company went bust, Warrington’s own version, Together Energy, decided it would be a good idea to buy it and then, of course, got into financial difficulties itself. Hackney Council planted thousands of trees, only for them to die due to neglect—literally, Labour dead wood.

Even the Labour Local Government Front Bench keeps up the tradition, inexplicably taking two shadow Secretaries of State to do the job of one actual one. The shadow Housing Secretary freely admits to reporters that she has no policies. The shadow Local Government Secretary reportedly rebuked a colleague in the shadow Cabinet for trying to develop some. From what we have heard today, perhaps it would have been better if he had taken his own advice. His first attempt after nine months has fallen apart at the slightest interrogation. Labour councils themselves want to raise taxes locally at or above the flexibility we are proposing. Labour and Liberal Democrat councils consistently have higher council taxes than Conservative councils. Labour councils consistently underperform Conservative councils. Whether it is Croydon or Nottingham, they are consistently letting down their local residents.