So it looks like our Labour Council administration will propose a council tax rise of just under 6% for the next financial year. These new bigger bills will land on our doorsteps in March.
Was it really only three years ago that Labour responded to the Greens’ proposals to ask the city for their thoughts on a 5.9% council tax rise, branding the suggestion ‘unaffordable for the hard working residents of Brighton and Hove?’ This new proposal from Labour now brings the total council tax rise imposed under their leadership to around 16%. So much for those hard working residents.
As an aside, in 2015 Labour also promised a freeze in parking charges. Fast forward to 2018 and some parking charges are set to rise by 30% or more in some areas. How things change when you’re in power.
Given the punitive cuts in council funding from central government – almost 40% since 2010 – the fact is that local councils nationwide are finding themselves in the unenviable position of looking at raising Council Tax. Instead of providing a nationally planned, realistic level of funding to under pressure services such as adult social care, the Conservative Government has repeatedly passed the buck to local councils, expecting them to meet rising demand with smaller and smaller budgets.
However, what’s particularly disappointing about Labour’s planned council tax increase is the undoubted impact it will have on poor and vulnerable residents. Brighton and Hove City Council operates a ‘Council Tax Reduction Scheme’ to provide some support to those that have difficulty paying this bill. We know that this is a problem for many residents – council tax arrears have driven more people to seek advice from Citizens Advice Bureaux than any other form of debt.
Greens fought hard to protect the levels of support provided under the Council Tax Reduction Scheme so that poorer residents would not bear the brunt of any increases. Yet throughout their time running Brighton and Hove City Council, this Labour administration have repeatedly increased the amount those on the lowest incomes are expected to pay in council tax by reducing the amount of relief offered under the scheme. Just last summer Labour once again prevented any possible change to the levels of council tax support by blocking consultation on the scheme.
No consultation, no change allowed – that’s the law. People in the city faced with the double whammy of universal credit, high costs of living and rising rent have been frozen out of a discussion on what level of support they might need. Instead, with the same scheme as last year, but a higher level of council tax, people clinging on to their accommodation by their fingertips might be pushed over the edge.
Greens think that council tax is a completely inappropriate way to pay for social care and for many of the other responsibilities of local government, which should be funded from progressive national taxation – such as income tax, or a more equitable local taxation system. Council tax is a regressive tax and is the deeply flawed, hastily implemented fudge resulting from the Margaret Thatcher’s failed Poll Tax experiment, which neither Labour, Conservatives nor Lib Dems have had the courage to address in the 27 years since it was introduced.
Of course we must find a way to prevent further devastating cuts to public services. The bulk of the blame here lies with the Tories – both for relentless cutting of funding for local government and also for passing the buck on basic funding for services to councils. But council tax rises can only go so far in meeting the gap. Our Labour administration should not blithely raise it without considering the impact on the poorest in our city.
Councillor Ollie Sykes is the Green Finance Spokesperson