Council tax heart of Tory poll push
Prime Minister David Cameron has put council tax at the heart of the Conservative appeal to voters at next week's local elections, but declined to say how he expected his party to do in the May 2 poll.
Voters go to the ballot box next Thursday in 27 county councils and seven unitary authorities in England, as well as two mayoral elections. In all, almost 2,400 council seats are up for grabs, most of them last contested in 2009 when the Tories made large gains against a deeply unpopular Labour Party led by Gordon Brown.
Reports have suggested that the Tories are braced for the loss of as many as 500 seats, though Labour's campaign co-ordinator, Tom Watson, has said he expects his party to pick up no more than 200-250.
Asked how many seats he was expecting to lose, Mr Cameron told BBC Radio 5 Live: "As for the results, you can summon any number of pollsters and experts and the rest of it to give you a forecast. I'm a participant. I'm there to try to persuade people how to vote rather than to make a guess as to what will happen."
The PM acknowledged that the elections would be "difficult", as they come in the middle of the parliamentary term, when governments are often trailing in the popularity stakes.
"Elections in mid-term of a government are always difficult, but I will be out there with my teams working hard to persuade people to vote Conservative with a very clear message, which is if you want to keep the council tax down - and after all this is what these elections are about because your county council sets the council tax - then you vote Conservative and get good value for money," said Mr Cameron.
"When you look across the country over the last three years, council tax has barely increased nationwide and obviously many areas have frozen it three times in a row. Compare that to the 10 years before - the Labour years - council tax basically doubled in virtually every single area of the country.
"So when it comes to helping people who are working hard and want to get on, this Government has taken two million people out of income tax, we've frozen the council tax, we've frozen fuel duty, we've cut beer duty. If you are on the minimum wage working full-time, your income tax bill has been cut in half, so we really are doing things to help people at a difficult time."
Mr Cameron said councils had done "a very effective job in demonstrating you can deliver more for less" by making cuts to back-office functions rather than frontline services.
But he indicated that he expects town halls to do more to cut spending on administration, for instance by sharing chief executives and other senior management.