County councils refuse government request to freeze local tax rates in run up to election

Four-fifths of counties planning an increase are Conservative-run

Three-quarters of county councils are set to raise council tax in the run-up to the general election, defying government pleas to freeze the charge.

Four-fifths of counties planning an increase are Conservative-run, but have turned down the offer of grant funding from central government equal to a 1 per cent rise, in return for a freeze. The move demonstrates concern among Tory council leaders over the impact of wider cuts on council services.

Overall, 43 per cent of councils expect to raise council tax charges for 2015-16, though only 20 per cent of London boroughs say they will do so. Only 3 per cent plan to reduce the charge. The figures, published this week by the Local Government Chronicle, are drawn from information provided by 110 councils.

Labour-run councils are more likely than Tory to be preparing for a tax rise, with more than half (56 per cent) planning to hike the charge passed on to residents, despite Labour leader Ed Miliband’s efforts to launch a general election campaign on the cost of living.

The figures come a week after it was revealed that councils are turning to residents to sweep streets, prune hedges and grit roads because of a lack of funding.

Tony Travers, professor of government at the London School of Economics, said it was difficult for councils to argue that they were reaching breaking point while refusing to ratchet up the local tax rate, but local politics often demanded it of them: “One of the remarkable things about the last four-and-a-half years is how remarkably well they have managed in difficult circumstances. The politics does play against the business of local government.”

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