Town halls revolt over council tax
Eric Pickles faces a significant revolt by town halls over council tax with more than 40% set to shun his plans for a freeze and raise local bills, a survey shows.
The Communities Secretary has promised local authorities in England the cash equivalent of a 1% rise in return for holding rates the same - the third such annual initiative.
Around 85% took up the offer last year but that number is set to plunge dramatically, according to figures compiled by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa).
With just over half of billing authorities already confirming their intentions, it found 41% intended to forego the grant and push up the tax for 2013/14.
Among the authorities who have already declared they will not impose a freeze, the average rise is expected to be 1.1% - leading to an average expected rise across England of 0.8%. That is almost three times last year's 0.3% increase and means an extra £11.74 on average for a Band D property but Mr Pickles insisted it was still "effectively frozen".
There are significant regional variations with an average 1.2% rise due across Yorkshire and Humber - adding £16.30 to a Band D property bill - while in Greater London, where bills went down on average last year, it is just 0.1%.
Mr Pickles said: "Council tax more than doubled under Labour. But this Government has worked to freeze council tax for three years, helping hard-working families and pensioners with their cost of living."
Town halls fear that unless they impose modest rises this year, they will be forced into more dramatic hikes in future when there is no Whitehall cash to soften the blow. Cipfa's director of policy Ian Carruthers said the squeezed budgets meant councils had to "strike an increasingly difficult balance" between tax rises and service cuts.
A Local Government Association spokesman said: "This has been a tricky decision for councils. Collectively local authorities are facing a 33% cut in funding from government at the same time as the cost of providing services like adult social care is climbing through the roof.
"The council tax grant from government is very small when set against those pressures and it lasts just two years with no certainty beyond that. Ultimately councils have to take a long-term view. Some have clearly decided that increasing council tax is one way of meeting current costs and alleviating pressure in the longer term. Councils are fully accountable to their electorates for these decisions."