Greens plan tax rise referendum

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Council Tax Bill

Britain's only Green Party-led council is planning to stage a "bold" referendum to see if there is local support to raise council tax by 4.75%.

A referendum is triggered when any council wants to increase council tax above a Government-imposed limit, which is currently set at 2%.

The minority Green administration at Brighton and Hove City Council said it would use the increase to fund adult social care services, including care for pensioners, and grants to third sector organisations.

Residents would be asked to vote on the possible increase in a referendum, which the Greens say would be the first of its kind in the modern era.

The plans have gained the unanimous support of Green councillors, and has the backing of senior party figures, including local MP Caroline Lucas.

City council leader Jason Kitcat said: "The Coalition's cuts mean we cannot deliver the services we were elected to provide and which our consciences say we should provide.

"We have no choice but to seek the views of local people on funding these services through a tax increase.

"Westminster's ideologically-driven cuts to local councils are huge and relentless while demand for our services continues to grow.

"Vulnerable people who depend on our services are being threatened from Westminster like never before."

Mr Kitcat said the authority had managed to save tens of millions pounds but that it could no longer find enough efficiencies to absorb all the cuts.

Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas said: "This is a bold move and one that I know the council is taking very reluctantly.

"The people have not voted for austerity. They have not chosen to have services they rely on destroyed by draconian cuts. This is an appalling situation, for which the Coalition Government is alone to blame."

It is estimated that a 4.75% increase would mean a rise of £5.30 a month for a Band C property and £5.97 for an average Band D home. People who claim council tax reduction will be protected.

The plan will go to council next month, unless opposed by Labour and Conservative councillors. It would then go to a ballot on May 22 - coinciding with European Parliament elections.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: "As Greens we believe that decisions should be made closest to the people who are affected.

"Instead of letting Whitehall impose cuts on vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove, this announcement takes the decision to the people."

The Brighton and Hove Labour Party said the referendum would cost £100,000. Party officials said it could not support such a large increase when people were still being financially squeezed.

Warren Morgan, leader of the Brighton and Hove Labour group, called on the Greens to quit and allow a cross-party caretaker administration to take office until the elections.

Mr Morgan accused the local Green Party of playing "political games". He said: "It is the basic duty of a council administration to set a budget.

"The Greens have absolved themselves of that responsibility, and put forward a 4.75% council tax increase that they know will not be supported by opposition parties at council or by the public in a referendum.

"We cannot support such a huge increase when people are finding it hard to meet rising bills. Instead, they have handed the responsibility of dealing with the cuts to others.

"They cannot now remain in office playing these political games rather than running the city effectively.
I am calling on the Greens to resign and allow a cross-party caretaker administration to run the council till the elections in 400 days."

Local Government minister Brandon Lewis said: "This Government has given local residents new powers to veto high council tax rises. We should trust the people.

"But Brighton's full council should also consider this Government's council tax freeze offer - extra central funding is on the table for Brighton if it freezes council tax and helps hard-working people with the cost of living"

Conservatives in Brighton said the figure for the referendum would cost taxpayers more than an estimated £200,000.

Simon Kirby, MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven, branded the Green Party proposal irresponsible and a costly gimmick.

He said: "Council tax is one of the biggest bills faced by many of my constituents and this plan by the Green administration for an eye-watering 4.75% rise in bills is outrageous.

"The Government is doing all it can to help people with the cost of living, for instance by lifting 2.4 million of the lowest earners out of income tax altogether, reducing the average taxpayers bill by £700 and cutting fuel duty.

"It is also investing in the pupil premium and increasing spending on the NHS, whilst reducing the biggest peace-time deficit in a hundred years.

"If the Government can manage to take such proactive measures to help hard-working residents then the city council should be doing the same here in Brighton."

He added: "We don't need an expensive referendum to know that residents in the city would prefer to see the city council tackling the waste and inefficiencies within the council itself before demanding even more money from local residents."

"I am sure that residents would prefer to see council tax frozen when they are already contributing £18 million in parking charges to the city council in the last year alone."

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