HUNTINGDONSHIRE will learn in two months’ time whether the district has changed central government policy on Council Tax capping.
The district council’s leader, Councillor Jason Ablewhite, met Local Government Minister Baroness Hanham last month to press the case for low-tax councils such as HDC and South Cambridgeshire, both of which are among the lowest taxing 10 per cent of England’s 200 district councils.
In the recent past, councils have been capped – or effectively capped – at a variety of unpredictable single-figure percentages, always below the rate of local authority inflation.
Earlier this year, both HDC and Cambridgeshire County Council (another low tax authority) refused to accept Whitehall’s one-off payment of the cash equivalent of a 2.5 per cent increase in Council Tax, because of the damaging effect it would have had on financing local authority services, such as social care, roads and refuse collection, in future.
So Cllr Ablewhite, faced with huge cuts in central government support but backed by a successful record of savings within HDC, bearded the minister in her Whitehall lair to urge her to ditch crude percentage increases as a basis for capping – or the current policy of demanding councils proposing increases above a particular level must carry out a referendum of taxpayers.
“I have asked ministers to look at setting a precept on the basis of pounds and pence rather than a percentage,” he told The Hunts Post.
HDC likes to compare itself with Ipswich council in this debate, because the Suffolk authority had a precept that is almost exactly double Huntingdonshire’s, where we pay £128.51 a year for a benchmark Band D property. That means a three per cent increase generates twice as much cash in Ipswich as in Huntingdon.
“A 10p a week limit is a much better story for the government than three per cent,” Cllr Ablewhite said. That £5.20 a week would represent an increase of just over four per cent for HDC, though the average Huntingdonshire household in Band C would pay rather less than that.
“It was met very favourably. The minister accepted that the present regime caused difficulties for low-taxing authorities. We have done a lot to save money but we shall reach the point where we have to reduce services or increase Council Tax – and I don’t want to reduce the level of service, particularly at a time when the Government is imposing additional costs on us.
“We are supporting the national and local economies, and we need the tools to continue to do that.”
Cllr Ablewhite expects the response to emerge in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on December 5.