Hull City Council leader defiant on tax rises: Steve Brady aims to protect services
DEFIANT city council leader Steve Brady refuses to apologise for increasing taxes in Hull by almost 2 per cent, claiming services would be lost otherwise.
Hull's ruling Labour Party has risked the wrath of Local Government Minister Eric Pickles, who labelled councils increasing tax by slightly less than 2 per cent – the threshold for requiring a "yes" vote in a local referendum – as "democracy dodgers".
The city council has unveiled plans to raise tax bills in Hull by 1.9 per cent from April.
In doing so, it will end a three-year freeze on council tax bills in Hull.
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It means most households in the city will see their annual £898 bill increase by £17.52.
But Councillor Brady said: "I had the impression this Government was all for localism.
"We need regular revenue and one-off payments from the Government are not enough.
"I make no apologies to Mr Pickles for what we have done.
"The increase is the difference between keeping a care home or day care centre open or not. We have to protect the most vulnerable as best we can.
"We have had a tax freeze for the past three years and have lost £3m to £4m in that time.
"We are facing cuts of £16m this year and the same next year. I just don't know what Mr Pickles expects of us."
A referendum on increasing council tax would be a waste of money, according to Cllr Brady.
He said: "Holding this referendum would cost more than the money we would make – that's defeating the objective.
"Mr Pickles should be questioning the whole idea of localism. This is supposed to be about local people making decisions for their own communities and we are the locally elected representatives.
"We have spent £5m on structural needs to attract Siemens to the city. We need money to stimulate the local economy."
Last week, Mr Pickles accused local authorities planning tax hikes of "cheating" hard-working taxpayers. He said: "We will take into consideration anybody cheating their taxpayers. Anybody using loopholes will lose out next year."
Only 115 of 351 local authorities in England – fewer than one third – have agreed to take up the Government's offer of help to freeze bills in 2013-14 so far.
The problem for town halls opting for a freeze is that they will receive a Whitehall grant equivalent to just a 1 per cent rise in council tax – far less than the 2.5 per cent on offer in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
With inflation above two per cent, that means a real-terms cut in funding.
No council is likely to opt for a rise above 2 per cent, because of the likelihood of losing any referendum – at a cost of up to £250,000.
Mr Pickles said even those planning increases below the 2 per cent trigger should "ask permission first".
He said: "They have to man up. Be straight with people. Take them into their confidence. If the public believes you've got a sensible case, they might well listen."