Over the coming weeks, councils will be holding their annual budget meetings at which they will formally take decisions about their expenditure on local services and their council tax levels for the year ahead. These discussions will affect the lives and household budgets of all who live in the council’s area.
Local people should be able to see how those they have elected to represent them have voted on these critical decisions. However, such decisions could be clearer.
A survey by Conservative Way Forward in August 2013, based on Freedom of Information Act requests to 340 councils, found that 78% of councils could not or would not say how councillors had voted on setting that year’s council tax. Three-quarters of councils which chose not to freeze council tax had not recorded their votes.
The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 will lay the way for greater reporting of council meetings using digital and social media. To complement this, we believe that local accountability would be further enhanced by asking all councils to publish, as a matter of record, how each councillor votes on any budget decisions including council tax changes. Indeed, recorded votes are the norm for parliamentarians.
Accordingly, we have written to every council leader making clear our expectation that this year all councils will adopt at their budget meeting the practice of recording in the minutes of the meeting how each member has voted on the budget and amendments to the budget.
To facilitate this, we laid before Parliament the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 which make provision requiring councils to amend their Standing Orders (it is open to councils to waive them before they can be permanently amended) so as to make mandatory the practice of recorded votes at budget meetings.
This small but practical reform increases council transparency and accountability over council tax, and highlights the work that councillors do in championing their communities and representing local electors.
It is the latest step in a series of measures the coalition Government have taken to help address the cost of living for hard-working people. This Government have announced a further two years of council tax freeze funding, on top of the average 10% cut in council tax in real terms that this Government have helped deliver since May 2010.
We will be also publishing shortly the final local government finance settlement and the council tax referendum threshold for 2014-15.