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Pickles to end council tax capping

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Councils could be forced to pay back excessive council tax levies following a referendum under plans announced by communities secretary Eric Pickles.

The government said it wanted to introduce legislation to abolish council tax capping and allow people to vote down tax increases at the earliest opportunity.

Under the plans a referendum would be automatically triggered if a local authority raises council tax above a level set by ministers.

The council would have to prepare a “shadow budget” based on the maximum increase to allow taxpayers a choice.

The idea was first mooted in the Conservative’s Control Shift policy paper published in February last year and was included in the coalition agreement outlined in May.

Mr Pickles said it was “clearly not acceptable” that council tax bills for Band D properties had doubled since 1997 and that police authorities were now charging three times as much. Thirty-six councils have had their council tax increases capped since 1999.

He added: “If councils want to increase council tax further, they will have to prove the case to the electorate. Let the people decide.

“This is a radical extension of direct democracy, as part of a wider programme of decentralising power to local communities. Power should not just be given to councils, but be devolved further down to neighbourhoods and citizens.”

Local authorities have been given until 10 September to respond to the proposals.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The government’s plan for local referendums on council tax increases is not new. Michael Heseltine made a similar proposal nearly 30 years ago. We wrote a letter to LGC opposing it on 10 July 1981.

    The local budget is the result of a process of balancing expenditure priorities, which cannot be expressed in a simple yes/no question.

    It damages representative democracy since it destroys the whole point of local elections, if elected councillors see their judgments based on their electoral promises overturned in a referendum called by a minister.

    George Jones, emeritus professor of government, London School of Economics and John Stewart, emeritus professor of local government, University of Birmingham

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