As the Government shared its final Local Government Finance Report with Parliament, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles called on councils to take up the Government’s offer of funding in exchange for freezing council tax again in the next financial year, while urging members of the public to take to Twitter to ask for a #freezeplease from their council.
The government is providing up to £550 million to each local authority that freezes their bills from this April. Any local authority which decides to raise council tax by more than two per cent must put it to a public vote.
Pickles said that council tax had more than doubled to £120 a month for the average bill.
"Council Tax became a big worry for those trying to balance family budgets. This Government has been working to give families greater financial security, taking action to keep Council Tax down."
Combined with cuts to the Revenue Support Grant, the Government’s grant to each local authority, the squeeze on revenue councils can raise over the coming financial years has led to councils considering yet more extreme cuts – with some saying they face bankruptcy if they cannot drastically reduce their spending.
Chair of the Local Government Association's Finance Panel, councillor Sharon Taylor, said that no other tax increase was put to the vote and criticised the lateness of the announcement.
"Local authorities are striving to keep council tax down but at the same time are grappling with the difficult task of protecting vital services like caring for the elderly, fixing the roads and waste collection following a 40 per cent reduction in government funding over this Parliament," she said.
"Many councils have already finalised their budgets for the coming financial year and the lateness of this announcement has added to the uncertainty faced by local authorities making crucial decisions about how local services will be provided from April.
"It should be for councils and their residents to decide how local services are paid for, not Whitehall. The ballot box on local election day allows for people to pass judgement on their councils. No other tax increase is subject to the extra cost of a referendum, as all other taxes are rightly seen to be within the mandate of the elected government. The same should apply for council tax."
The Government has published figures which help residents see which councils are willing to accept the deal. The figures also show each council’s track record since 2010. Final decisions from all local authorities will be known next month.
Pickles suggested that local referendums could be held on the same day as the European elections on 22 May at minimal extra cost or inconvenience.
Pickles also said that from this year councils should make voting on council tax and budgets a matter of public record.