Monday, February 25, 2013
A decision to raise Norwich council tax bills by a fraction less than the figure which would trigger a public referendum has been criticised as “flagrant democracy-dodging” by a Norfolk MP.
Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis is also a junior minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, which offered a grant to authorities if they froze their council tax demands this year.
But Norwich City Council declined that offer earlier this month when it agreed to raise its share of the council tax bill by 1.95pc – a move which councillors said would protect key services in a budget which included about £2.5m worth of savings.
The rise was set just below the 2pc threshold at which the council would be required to ask voters if they were willing to pay the increase. But the criticism was met with an equally stinging response from the city council’s deputy leader, who said the freeze grant offered by the minister’s department was “totally inadequate” against a backdrop of government cuts.
Mr Lewis said: “Every local resident will be dismayed by this flagrant democracy-dodging. Norwich City Council is doing hard-working families and pensioners a real disservice by raising their council tax to a hair’s breadth below the trigger level in order to avoid a public vote instead of taking up this government’s offer to help fund a freeze for the third year in a row.
“Increasing council tax at this time is wrong. Councillors trying to undercut democracy in this way will find out what residents really think about their money being snatched away on the doorstep or through a kick in the ballot box.”
Alan Waters, deputy leader of Norwich City Council, said the increase was within the government rules, and would equate to an extra 1p per day for the majority of council tax payers in the city. He said: “Our decision was made against a background of deeper cuts from central government and the need to protect vital services.
“The freeze grant of 1pc offered by Mr Lewis, when inflation for local government is running at between 3pc and 5pc, is totally inadequate.
“The announcement last week that our proposals for a City Deal had been accepted shows that other parts of government clearly value Norwich as a partner.
“The message does not seem to have got through to Mr Lewis.
“His time would be better spent getting a fair deal for local government instead of sending out unsolicited and abusive emails to councils struggling with another harsh financial settlement.”