Council tax in England more than doubled under the previous Administration, and shire counties were hit particularly hard. Under that formula, Worcestershire saw an average rise close to 140%.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to record his thanks to staff and councillors at Malvern Hills and Wychavon district councils, which have managed to make enough back-office savings to enable them to freeze council tax following those shocking increases?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking those two councils for prioritising their expenditure, for working together, and for protecting front-line services. After all, that is what local government should do, and it is what local government is particularly good at.
The Secretary of State has earmarked funds for councils for this year and next year to encourage them to freeze council tax. Given the importance to councils of planning, is the Secretary of State thinking about what will happen in the following year? Is he likely to continue his present policy? Does he accept that if he withdraws the grant he will not have frozen council tax, but will merely have deferred two years’ increases and produced the possibility of very large increases in the following year?
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not accept that for a moment. The arrangements for council tax in the current year will continue next year and the year after, throughout the spending period. On top of that, there is a one-off payment to councils to help them to reduce their expenditure. That seems eminently sensible to me. After that, the people will decide; it will not be up to me. The hon. Gentleman scoffs at referendums. The hon. Gentleman does not like talking about democracy. The hon. Gentleman seems not to think that the population are up to making such important decisions, but we do.