Council Tax: Government’s Proposed Increase

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 25th January 2021.

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Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:49 pm, 25th January 2021

The Opposition motion calls on the Government to drop

“plans to force local councils to increase council tax”— another complete misunderstanding of the system of local government finance. Decisions on council tax levels are, of course, for local councils themselves. We are allowing councils the flexibility to raise council tax up to the ceiling that we have set, with a 2% council tax referendum limit—a ceiling that many Labour councils have been asking us to raise—and an additional 3% for adult social care responsibilities.

We are also giving councils the flexibility to defer rises in the adult social care precept for next year, if that is what councils locally decide and if local circumstances require that. Vitally, we are also providing councils with £670 million of new funding to enable them to continue to reduce council tax bills next year for those least able to pay—a point that was made so well by my hon. Friend Claire Coutinho.

We on the Government side of the House trust councils to make the right decisions on council tax; the Labour party cannot even persuade its own councils, which have been writing to us to ask for greater flexibility so that they can raise council tax even more. The Labour party cannot even persuade the Labour group on the LGA, which would see the cap on council tax rises scrapped altogether, as my hon. Friend Mike Wood pointed out.

Several Members made points about the Government’s record on council tax. My hon. Friend Paul Maynard put it very well: under the Labour Government, council tax doubled, it has trebled in Wales and the Labour Mayor of London wants to raise it by 10%, whereas under the Conservatives it has fallen in real terms since 2010. We have introduced council tax referendums, which put an end to the crude universal capping system of the past; we put in place voluntary council tax freeze schemes for five years, which helped to deliver the lowest average increases across England since council tax was introduced; we have introduced local council tax support schemes, requiring councils to set up schemes to help those least able to pay; and we have given councils flexibility over discounts and exemptions and helped them to better manage local housing markets through the introduction of the empty homes premium.

A number of Members raised the issue of social care and were absolutely right to do so. We are funding councils for social care into the future, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South pointed out. The provisional local government finance settlement for next year will provide councils with more than £1 billion of additional funding for social care next year, including £300 million of new grant funding. That is in addition to the £790 million that can be raised through the adult social care precept, if councils decide to. That is, of course, on top of the £1 billion social care grant announced last year, which is being maintained in line with our manifesto commitment.

I was surprised to hear the hon. Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne)—the former shadow Secretary of State, for whom I have huge respect—all talk about the social care precept raising money in the wrong places. They obviously have not studied the detail of the settlement, which says clearly that we have put aside £240 million to equalise the differences in adult social care precepts. I am afraid they just have not read the detail of the settlement. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) pointed out the pressures on household budgets, which are exactly why we have introduced the £670 million scheme.

The Opposition misunderstand and misunderstood the local government finance system. They cannot grasp the fact that it allocated over £1 billion more to local government than councils are spending in response to the pandemic. We take no lectures from a party that doubled council tax when in office and have trebled it in Wales. We are ensuring that councils have the resources they need to come out of this pandemic stronger, and that is why we are supporting councils with a £2.2 billion rise in core spending power and £1.5 billion of extra support to help with covid costs.

We are giving councils the flexibility to defer any increases next year if they believe it is right for their community. We are protecting residents from the sort of outrageous tax hikes that were so commonplace under the last Labour Government. Councils have done an incredible job of responding throughout the pandemic, and we are standing behind them.