Kingston defies minister to raise council tax

Kingston Council has defied biting criticism from Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles to confirm a rise in council tax of almost 2%.

Mr Pickles launched a scathing attack on the council last month for its plans to ignore his call to freeze bills but the council decided to go ahead with the increase at its budget meeting on Feb 26. The change means a £26.85 increase for band D residents and narrowly dodges a public referendum, which Mr Pickles has branded as showing “complete contempt” towards voters.

Lead Member for Finance and Resources Councillor Rolson Davies hit back at central government criticism, blaming the Government’s cuts for rising bills.

He said: “The last two budget speeches I have made have been critical of the coalition government’s attitude to local government financing. Nothing has changed over that period and in fact the situation has worsened.

“Despite the significant cuts in our funding all we can expect in the foreseeable future is further reductions to local authorities and a resultant diminishing service to our community, unless the government wakes up to the danger.”

The council claims that the rise will protect the most vulnerable residents when the government axes council tax benefits in April 2013 .

They argue that many councils are handing the 10% funding cut on to the poorest residents, instead of providing a finanical cushion through more taxes across the board.

Cllr Davies said: “In Kingston we are protecting most of our low income claimants from the government’s cut of over £1m to our budget relating to council tax benefit. If they do receive an increase (and many will not) it will be no more than the percentage that all council tax payers in Kingston will receive unless they are a non-dependant.”

According to research from the Resolution Foundation thinktank, almost three quarters of councils will respond to government cuts by reducing benefits and making the poorest pay more.

But Kingston already charges the highest council tax bills in London – now £88 more than a band D resident in neighbouring Richmond and over £1,000 more than Westminster – and faces embarrassment as many councils, including Richmond, freeze or reduce their bills.

However Cllr Davies said that many councils were also defying Mr Pickles by increasing taxes above 2% without a mandatory referendum. He said: “At the last count 102 councils across the country are intending to reject Pickles short sighted bribe – 6 of which are in London including Tory Bromley, Tory Croydon and Tory Wandsworth who have gotten away with a council tax increase of 3.1% without a referendum.”

Leader of the Council, Derek Osbourne said: “Our finances are being ever more tightly, the situation is the most severe for years. As the cuts continue to bite we are doing our best to cut costs while protecting the services that matter most to people.”

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