Councils were told by central government that if they wanted to raise council tax by more than 2 per cent a year, they had to submit their new rate to a local referendum. So what did they do? At least some have fixed their increases at 1.99 per cent. What precisely did ministers expect? The 2 per cent ceiling was an invitation to do just that.
In the same way that setting the proportion of A to C grades as the target for GCSE school league tables encourages teachers to home in on those sub-C pupils who can be dragged over the line to the neglect of everyone else; in the same way that the police, given targets for clearing up certain crimes, shift the definitions to fit, so the councils have found the margin of flexibility permitted by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, and maximised it. What Mr Pickles called "dodging democracy", they – alas – are right to call common sense.