Suffolk: MP wants public to sanction tax increases

The number of council officers earning �100k-plus year has risen

The number of council officers earning �100k-plus year has risen - Credit: PA

A SUFFOLK MP is calling for town and parish councils to be forced into holding a referendum if they propose to increase their share of council tax by 2% or more.

Therese Coffey thinks people should have the right to vote for or against increases beyond the limits already prescribed for higher tiers of local government.

The challenge comes following significant rises in some town and parish council precepts in her own Suffolk Coastal constituency, with around a third choosing to make increases.

Dr Coffey is supporting calls by parliamentary colleague Kris Hopkins, MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire, who introduced a bill to ban tax hikes by town and parish councils without a referendum.

Under changes introduced by the current government, certain authorities must get public approval for proposed council tax increases of more than 2%. Dr Coffey wants parish and town councils to follow the same rules.

She said: “This is about town and parish councils having to seek support if they want to put up precept above a certain level.

“Some councils have made substantial increases in their precept year on year and I think constituents deserve similar protection to such increases as they enjoy from other precepting authorities.

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“In these tough financial times we need to ensure that any above-threshold increase in council tax is sanctioned by taxpayers themselves.”

To reduce the cost of any ballot, Dr Coffey proposes that any increase above the threshold should require endorsement at said council’s annual meeting, or at a special general meeting, with a secret vote.

Last month Suffolk Coastal accepted the Government’s council tax freeze grant for the second year running.

Tim Passmore, Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, also chose to freeze the precept, while Suffolk County Council committed to a four-year freeze. It has recently meant some assets and non-statutory duties being devolved to town or parishes to save the district or borough councils money.

Some town and parish councils also blame Whitehall’s Localism Bill, which looks to devolve power from central government.

Shona Bendix, chief executive of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC), said a number of town and parish authorities were forced to raise their share of the precept to cover cuts to services elsewhere.

She said rather than having to spend money on an automatic referendum, town and parish councillors could carry out a comprehensive survey to gauge people’s views.

“If you have a referendum there’s a danger you only hear from the minority who turn out to vote,” she said.

“It makes more sense to have some proper engagement.

“Get out there and knock on doors and find out what people want. If they would be willing to pay for, say, a PCSO, managing public spaces, public toilets, library services or street cleaning, then why shouldn’t they be able to do that?”

She also said that because town and parish budgets were relatively small when compared to those of district or county councils a rise of more than 2% might not mean that much in monetary terms, resulting in just a few pence per household.