England’s cohort of newly elected mayors are divided over whether to add an extra precept on to residents’ council tax bills to help fund their functions.
mayoral precept plans
While Greater Manchester CA’s Andy Burnham (Lab) and West Midlands CA’s Andy Street (Con) have published plans to increase council tax, Tees Valley CA’s Ben Houchen (Con) and Liverpool City Region CA’s Steve Rotheram (Lab) have baulked at making residents pay more.
Cambridgeshire & Peteborough CA mayor James Palmer (Con) has not yet decided on whether to raise a precept, while legislation prevents West of England CA mayor Tim Bowles (Con) from doing so.
Housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid said last month that he was letting mayors set their own precept level this year rather than subjecting them, like individual councils, to a threshold for increases above which referendums are required. At the time Mr Javid said: “I’m sure voters will be watching closely to ensure this freedom is not abused – as I will.”
Mr Rotheram said this week that it would be wrong to ask residents to “pay the price” for government cuts to council and police budgets, while Mr Houchen said he “didn’t stand for election to increase taxes”.
The fact two mayors at least have passed up the opportunity to help fund the functions of their office has surprised some onlookers.
Simon Jeffrey, policy officer at Centre for Cities, told LGC: “It’s very tricky [for mayors]. It’s a uniquely visible tax and mayors are trying to tell people what they do and communicate their role and showcase their achievements.
“Swimming against a tide of people not knowing [much about them] means they are in a tricky situation if they foist what may be seen as another layer of government on people.”
Unlike any other mayor elected last year, Mr Burnham also has police and crime commissioner duties. On top of the mayoral precept Mr Burnham is proposing to raise council tax by an extra £12 per band D property per year for the PCC role.
However, in his announcement this week Mr Burnham focused on the extra cost to band B properties because more than 82% of properties in Greater Manchester are either in bands A, B or C. The band B increase for the mayoral precept is £7 while the proposed PCC increase equates to £9.33 per band B property.
Mr Burnham is proposing to use the money to relieve congestion on the region’s roads and recruit at least 50 new neighbourhood police officers.
While the rise is “a big ask” for residents, Mr Burnham said he was “facing pressure from the public to go further and faster on tackling homelessness and congestion while protecting green spaces”.
Mr Street’s precept plans have been thrown into doubt after members of the combined authority refused to back the proposals, although he is in discussions with leaders ahead of a crunch budget meeting on 9 February. His proposals will help fund “congestion-busting” transport projects as well as “critical” policy work.
London mayor Sadiq Khan (Lab) has proposed raising council tax by about £14 per band D property per year. That rise – higher than any of the other mayors’ plans to date – showed Mr Khan believes his role is well-known and understood by the public, said Mr Jeffrey.
While the fact some mayors have decided not to raise a precept might be perceived as a “short term loss” financially, Mr Jeffrey said it could be “a longer term gain” for the mayoral roles.