Communities secretary Eric Pickles has suggested councils could keep more of their locally-raised business rates next year.
Speaking at the Chartered Institute for Public Finance & Accountancy’s annual conference yesterday, Mr Pickles said: “I’d like to increase the percentage you retain by maybe 2% or 3% in the next settlement.
“As we move towards 2020 [I’d like] to get it as close to 80% as we can.”
During the conference Mr Pickles also announced a £16m “challenge fund” for councils with “innovative” ideas for tackling fraud.
Authorities will be able to bid for two-year funding if they can “demonstrate how their proposals will recoup money owed or tighten safety nets to prevent criminals ripping them off,” a statement from the Department for Communities & Local Government said.
The minister said he wanted councils’ plans to show how they would offer “better prevention, detection or deterrents”.
He said 79 councils claimed to have no non-benefit fraud, a figure he claimed was not credible.
“Fraud costs hardworking taxpayers £2bn per year,” he said. “We are supporting councils to go further in catching fraud felons, and today I am proud to commit £16m over 2 years to ridding this scourge.”
But during a question and answer session with the minister after his speech, Guy Ware, strategic director for enabling at Lambeth LBC, told Mr Pickles: “My authority is cutting over a third of its budget. To come here and suggest the most important thing we can do is tackle fraud is either ignorance or mendacity… It’s marginal to the issue.”
Alex Folkes (Lib Dem), cabinet member for finance and resources at Cornwall Council, told Mr Pickles his authority would struggle to tackle fraud because, under government reforms, three-quarters of its anti-fraud team had been transferred to the Department for Work & Pensions.
In response, the communities secretary said: “Get off your knees and make them an offer. My advice is to simply push the envelope as far as you can. Don’t be a supplicant, be prepared to stand up for your local community, do it for yourself… Just get on with it.”
Mr Pickles urged councils to hold referendums on council tax rises. “There’s no way any government will increase the referendum threshold,” he said. “So show some courage and leadership, make the case [for a tax rise] and [if you win the referendum] you won’t hear a peep out of me.”
He also used his speech to urge councils to sell surplus assets in order to protect frontline services. “You’ve got to start asking yourself, what good is that empty office block to your residents?” he said.