Council Tax: Government’s Proposed Increase

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:23 pm on 25th January 2021.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:23 pm, 25th January 2021

This Government, like their predecessor and their predecessor, are pursuing a policy that promotes an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. The opening remarks of the Secretary of State suggest he is clueless about how hard this is hurting hard-pressed households across the country. Most shameful of all is the Government’s disingenuous claim to level up our country and our society. This is laid bare in their approach to local government finance, where they have brazenly encouraged this widening of wealth between our local authorities—between shire and city, and north and south. Instead, they have presided over an acceleration of inequality across this country, while families have to stump up more money for less locally.

Fortunately, the public are starting to see this for the charade it is. After years of inflation-busting council tax increases in effect forced on authorities by this Conservative Government, the public see next to nothing in return: holes in the roads, holes in their arguments. Across England, we have seen the average band D council tax increase dramatically, way ahead of inflation. In 2015-16, this was £1,500, and it is expected now to rise to almost £2,000 in this next financial year. This represents an eye-watering 29% increase in cash terms on its level in 2015-16.

Residents in Warwick and Leamington are facing a further increase of £94 on average this coming financial year, despite next to no increase in wages and inflation at between 0.5% to 0.7%. Warwickshire County Council has lost half a billion in funding since 2013. Among all the services it has cut or closed, let me just mention the virtual closure of youth services, which has clearly contributed to knife crime rocketing. We now have the prospect of yet another rise in the police levy from the police and crime commissioner. It is another 6%—12 times the inflation rate—on local taxes, while cutting 87 staff from the investigations and domestic abuse teams. That is 87 dedicated and experienced police staff being made redundant.

This is all against a backdrop of the Government handing out cash to their mates, with £21 billion for a failed test and trace scheme that sees call operators staying at home and making a couple of calls a day. The Government are starving local public health of money, although local public health would do it better for less. They are shovelling money to other mates setting up middlemen businesses to import personal protective equipment that never arrives—merely hundreds of millions of pounds in their case.

Let me give the Government one desperate plea from local government: charge a fair fee for planning. It is ridiculous that a site employing 2,000 people here for the new megalab in Leamington is, in effect, being subsidised by Warwick District Council. I also make a plea to provide some long-term certainty. How many times have we heard the Government say they will do whatever it takes, only to take whatever they like from what they promised local government? On 16 March, the Secretary of State told 300 council leaders they would do whatever necessary to support them. We are seeing an ever-widening gap in our society, and another inflation-busting council tax is just one too many for them.