Eric Pickles is at it again
It has been a while since the mighty Eric Pickles has raised the ire of the WLLG team. This has not been for want of trying. Mr Pickles’ latest thoughts of multi-culturalism raised a curious eyebrow, his entreaty to business people to work harder made us wonder if he had simply forgotten he wasn’t talking about local government that day, his re-announcement of the business rates changes mildly distracted us, and his obsession with street parties and flags keeping us amused if not informed.
But whilst Mr Pickles might have been characteristically provocative in his speech (something which we actually value here at WLLG) the simple fact is that the DCLG has somewhat run out of policies, ideas and general announcements. Even the Queens Speech was a largely DCLG free zone.
All this was to change on Monday. With what announcement did the DCLG choose to make the political running you may ask? Well, this:
New council tax help for hard-working families and pensioners
Good news you might think and as the press release continues we find out that:
These reforms could allow councils to make up to a £20 reduction in the bill for a typical Band D property in England, or hold bills down by the same amount.
Amongst some sensible reforms (finally, individuals can pay their council tax over 12 equal instalments ending the ‘put it all into 10 months’ nonsense) the Government was particularly keen to emphasise this £20 reduction they are freeing up local authorities to provide through their technical changes. This money is freed up by giving:
Councils greater local flexibility to choose to waive special tax relief on second homes and empty homes, allowing councils to use the monies to keep the overall rate of council tax down. This would allow a £20 saving on a Band D council tax bill for ordinary families. There will be no requirement for councils to make any changes, if they do not wish.
So, why on earth did this seemingly innocuous announcement raise the ire of the WLLG team?
Well, it was the sheer bare-faced cheek of it.
The Government has already announced that it is to reduce the amount of money local councils receive to deliver council tax benefit. Instead of providing councils with the money needed to provide the benefit the Government is going to take the amount provided over the last few years, run it through a computer and then take away 10%. The council can then make a number of decisions.
- It can simply reduce or remove council tax benefit from its local residents. However, the rules for this exempt certain groups, such as older people, leaving the space for manoeuvre for local councils to be rather small
- Absorb the cost of this cost and leave council tax benefit the same
- Make other changes to the council tax regime to offset the costs. The suggestion by the Government (I don’t know if this was ever formalised) was that we could waive the special tax relief on second homes and empty homes and then use the monies to offset the massive hit our budgets would take by the Government just giving us 10% less for council tax benefit than they did last year.
To announce this reform as allowing councils to make a £20 reduction on council tax is disingenuous at best and downright dishonest at worst.
The DCLG would like us to believe that every decision they make is designed to reduce council tax whilst every decision councils make is about raising tax and cutting services. The truth is much more complex and sees local government working within an increasingly tight budget. What makes it worse is that today’s announcement was a good one; the changes make sense and I’m pleased Mr Pickles and co are doing them.
I just wish they’d stop twisting things for narrow political benefit, especially when the benefit is so absolutely marginal (I’m not even certain any papers actually picked this one up).
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