I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Prior to taking my place in the House, I spent the past 16 years as a councillor in all three tiers of local government. Most recently I was the finance lead of an upper-tier authority, and previously I was the finance lead for a lower-tier authority, and we did not increase council tax over many years.
It is probably worth repeating what councils do. They are very much on the frontline of what our residents see, including waste collection, council tax collection, housing, leisure, social services, education and highways. May I take this opportunity to thank all those excellent council officers up and down the country who have made sure that, despite the pandemic, residents have been at the forefront of receiving support?
On localism and devolution, of which I am a massive fan, politicians at the local level have a responsibility to make tough decisions, and residents have the opportunity at every election to confirm whether they think a politician made the right decision. This Government have given local authorities the option of increasing their council tax by up to 5%, and it is down to local councillors to make that decision.
I look forward to a long-term solution being found for the issue of social care, and I know that this Government are continuing to work on that very difficult decision. It is worth repeating, however, that those councils that have grasped the opportunity to become self-sufficient rather than reliant on handouts have also fared best during this pandemic.
Basic economics dictate the need to either increase income or reduce expenditure. The focus should always remain on value for money. We as politicians are only custodians of other people’s—that is, taxpayers’—money. However, as a Conservative, I very much believe in having a safety net, and I am glad that this Conservative Government have given us the £500 million council tax hardship fund to ensure that those who are not able to pay their council tax have the support they need.
The other thing I wanted to bring up is that each council has a duty to collect council tax, and it was interesting to see from my research that the 10 worst offenders up and down the country in terms of council tax collection happen to be Labour. I urge all councillors and council staff to focus on making sure that the policy position they implement means that we do not need to cut or reduce services when it is not necessary to do so. I will leave it at that. Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.