Government funding cuts to local Government are being used by Labour to test the water for a 2% increase in council tax here in Ipswich, passing up the offered council tax freeze grant money offered by the Government. Yet nobody should be surprised by proposals to hike council tax; last years budget identified that nearly £2 million in savings would need to be found for a council tax freeze this year, and instead Labour have added considerable areas of spending to the revenue budget.
Labour’s David Ellesmere told the Ipswich Star that no final decision had yet been made about the council tax bill for 2013/14 – but putting it up by 2% had not been ruled out.
“We are looking at all options, but cannot rule out increasing council tax bills. Even if we did that there could be serious cuts in some of the front-line services we provide.
“Once we studied the local government settlement from the end of last year, it became clear that the government is cutting back quite severely – although I defy anyone to understand how they calculate the figures!”
The Tory led Government offers local authorities a bribe not to put up council tax, which is worth about 1% on council tax bills. In Ipswich this is about £130,000 and Labour seem to think it simply isn’t enough money.
Yet it will be interesting to see how hard they have actually looked for savings. Decisions they’ve made over the last two years are coming home to roost. Ipswich Academy wanted to take over the management of the Gainsborough Sports Centre, which loses money hand over fist. Labour said no. Ransomes’ Sports & Social Club wanted a new lease, instead Labour handed them a notice to quit and took over the running of the club. Taking over the Ipswich Arts Centre will have added to the revenue requirements as well.
New Tory leader Chris Stewart pledged to fight the Labour proposals. “I do not know all the detailed figures, but any increase in council tax would have to be offset against the support we get from the government – so it doesn’t make any sense.
“And when people are really struggling to meet their bills they don’t need another demand like this from the council.”
The difference in council tax between the Tory proposals and Labour’s likely tax rises is beginning to become stark. Whilst the Tory proposal for a 1% cut last year was scrapped by Labour, a similar proposal is likely to come from them this year. The element of the council tax attributable to Ipswich was £309.69 for a Band D property last year. A two percent increase will cost taxpayers £6.19 on an average property. If the Tories had their way last year, the cost would be £306.59 this year, and a similar cut would take it down to £303.50.
Labour are playing into the Tories hands here. The Tories can go into the next election telling voters how much Labour are costing them directly. And that the divergence is getting worse. Last years council tax freeze cost average taxpayers just £3.10 a year. But combined with this proposal it will be £9.29. By the time of next years Borough Council elections it is likely to be more than £12. There will be those who scoff that this is such a small amount of money it isn’t worth it. It is always easier to spend other people’s money.
This will be a potent campaign slogan for the Tories in next years Borough Elections – voting Labour costs you money.