‘FREEZE your council tax!’
That’s the message from Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to both Conservative-controlled Cheshire West and Chester Council and Tory Cheshire police commissioner John Dwyer.
The council is proposing a 1.9% hike in the precept while Commissioner Dywer has suggested a 1.99% rise – both will sneak under the 2% level which would trigger a local referendum.
Mr Pickles, who has described councils who do that as ‘democracy dodgers’, has promised to give a 1% uplift in central government grant for authorities that freeze council tax.
He told The Chronicle on a visit to a regional party conference in Chester: “On 1.9%, if they’d taken the council tax freeze the government would actually have paid for 1% so we are actually only talking about 0.9% and if they are saying they can’t manage then show some courage and put a figure in above the 2% and go for a referendum, if that’s what they’re saying.
“Or are they saying they can actually manage on 1.9%? I don’t think it’s the case, so I think if a council tax freeze is available this year they should take it. I’m not opposed to people going for a referendum, I think that’s the honest way to do it.”
Mr Pickles, who campaigned for Cheshire Police commissioner John Dwyer and had seen him the previous evening, said he was ‘less than happy’ with his proposed 1.99% precept rise. “I would prefer for him to deliver a council tax freeze,” added Mr Pickles.
The Secretary of State says Labour would have made cuts in local government spending if it was in office because of the deficit.
He said: “I expect local authorities to deliver sensible savings, improving procurement, improving joint cooperation, seeing that the level of their workforce is not oppressing on the bill that ordinary people have to pay. I expect them to do their duty.”
But he added: “That’s why local authorities deliver the reductions because I expect them to protect the most vulnerable and to protect those on lower income.”
The Secretary of State was unaware of the controversy over the proposed student village on the green belt near Chester which was narrowly rejected by the council’s strategic planning committee but could be appealed.
Mr Pickles, who would ultimately determine the outcome of any appeal couldn’t comment on the specifics, but talking about green belt policy, he said: “Through the National Planning Policy Framework we have reinforced the green belt but we think local authorities are in the best position to able to designate the green belt and to protect it.”