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

There are many examples I could cite from Birmingham City Council, but I do not think time allows me to do that.

Let us contrast this Government’s approach to protecting the interests of local tax payers with that of Labour. In one year alone, the last Labour Administration oversaw an increase in council tax by a staggering 12.9%. In comparison, as we have said, since 2010 this Government have implemented five years of council tax freezes, under which the great majority of councils did not increase council tax at all. In retail price index terms, council tax is lower than it was in 2010. We have introduced legislation to end crude and universal top-down capping, ensuring significant council tax increases can be implemented only through a referendum, giving local tax payers a right to veto excessive tax increases.

Across the country, Conservatives charge the lowest taxes. We see this on the ground wherever we look. In the Leader of the Opposition’s constituency, in Labour-run Camden, council tax is three times as high as in neighbouring Conservative-run Westminster. As I am sure Steve Reed can testify, residents in Labour Merton and Lambeth pay almost twice the council tax of residents living just one or two roads away in Wandsworth. The Mayor of London has presided over a rise in council tax every year he was elected. To put that in perspective, when the Prime Minister was Mayor, he reduced the amount of council tax he charged Londoners by almost 11% during his tenure. In his last year alone, band D households in the 32 London boroughs saw their Greater London Authority council tax charges fall by 6.4%. Across the country, Conservative Mayors, whether Andy Street in the west midlands or Ben Houchen in Teesside, are continuing that tradition: low on taxes; high on leadership and delivery.

The provisional local finance settlement, which I announced to the House on 17 December, set out our proposals to increase the core spending power available to councils by 4.5%, a significant and real-terms increase. That comes on top of a 4.5% real-terms increase this year—a settlement the Labour party considered so good that, for the first time in living memory, it did not even oppose it. In total, we expect core spending power for English councils to increase from £49 billion this year to £51.2 billion next year, in line with last year’s increases and recognising the resources that councils need to meet extraordinary pressures while maintaining the essential services they provide.

The measures I proposed will provide an additional £1 billion of funding for adult and children’s social care. We have also confirmed that we intend to roll forward last year’s £1.4 billion of social care grant and continue the 2020-21 improved better care funding at £2.1 billion. We are considering responses to the settlement consultation and will return to the House to set out the final funding package for local government in the very near future.

The shadow Secretary of State has suggested to the House today that this Government have not delivered on our commitment to communities during the pandemic. This past year has seen the largest ever injection of in-year cash to the local government sector. Taken together, we have provided over £36 billion of support to and through local government in response to the pandemic. To put that in context, in 2019-20 the entire council tax take for the whole of England was £31.6 billion—less than we have provided in year to and through local councils this year alone. Local authorities have received £8 billion in direct funding, with a further £3 billion extra already announced for 2021-22, and we forecast adding an additional £1.2 billion to that from schemes to compensate for lost council income from sales, fees and charges.

That takes the total additional funding provided to local authorities to over £12 billion, £2 billion more than the sum the Local Government Association called for at the start of the pandemic—the sum the shadow Secretary of State himself estimated to be the cost to councils of covid at the time. We know today that we have provided £1 billion more than local government has self-reported to my Department as covid-related costs throughout that period—£1 billion more than even councils have told us they have spent and need. Let us be clear that when the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and I promised to support local councils and the communities that rely on them, we meant that promise, and we have delivered on that promise.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have mobilised our welfare system like never before, with generous income support schemes, mortgage holidays, support for renters, a £500 million local authority hardship fund, a £170 million covid winter grant scheme and much-needed help with utilities. To support local economies, we have provided £12 billion in grants to thousands of businesses the length and breadth of the country, and a business rates holiday worth around £10 billion to local retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. We have operated a major reimbursement scheme for lost council income, recovering billions of pounds from car parks, leisure centres, theatres and tourist attractions—money that will go to help councils move forward and recover.

That is not even to mention £4.6 billion of un-ring-fenced grant support to councils, £1 billion through the infection control fund, £1 billion through the contain outbreak management grant and £300 million via the test and trace service support grant. I could go on and on: 5 million food boxes delivered; 2 million shielded people protected through councils; and, of course, 33,000 rough sleepers brought in off the streets under the world-class Everyone In programme, and given the chance to rebuild their lives. That is central Government and local government working together through a unique pandemic to support millions of people across the country.

Local government has been—and remains—at the forefront of our response to covid-19. This Government are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with local government in its hour of greatest need: with the officers, the teachers, the refuse collectors, the care workers, and the environmental health officers enforcing our regulations. For all that they have done, we salute them and thank them on behalf of our communities and our country. We owe them the stability, certainty and flexibility to plan for a brighter future ahead, and that is exactly what we have done, what we will do and what we will always do for them.

Our communities have never needed good council leadership more than they do today. Whether it is in Croydon or in Nottingham, across the country the reputation of too many Labour councils is, frankly, rotten. We take no lectures from the Labour party, which presided over eye-watering increases in council tax throughout its time in office, and whose economic mismanagement in local government has been laid painfully bare for all to see. The reports of those councils—Croydon and Nottingham—spell it out: mismanagement; waste; poor public services; and, yes, higher council taxes. There is a toxic legacy of debt and dysfunction, not just for today but for future generations. And where, frankly, was the shadow Secretary of State? Where was his denunciation of Croydon and Nottingham? He was silent. He was invisible. His famous Twitter account was as uncharacteristically quiet as that of Donald Trump—no leadership when the country needed it.

While we have reduced council tax in real terms under our watch, Labour has increased it time and again. While we have been clear that we have a plan to protect local councils and that we care about local council taxpayers, Labour has perfected the art of saying nothing at all. Frankly, council taxpayers across the country deserve better than this absurd and hypocritical debate from the Labour party, and they will have the opportunity to say so in May.