The localist in me was thrilled to hear about the District Council Network’s calls for maximum financial freedoms for councils. They’ve been lobbying hard for greater devolution of powers and flexibilities so that districts are free to attract and use income in ways that meet the local challenge and remain accountable to the local taxpayer. Looking at the proposed council tax referendum principles for another year, I can see why!
The proposals are set to limit districts to the higher of 2% or £5. Unitary authorities and county councils can both generate an additional 3% for social care and Police and Crime Commissioners can increase their precept by up to £15.
What a 2% principle doesn’t tell you though is what it actually means – which is an average increase of just £3.89 for districts. For many, this will mean the £5 cap (which on average is only 2.7% by the way) is taken up, particularly by those councils looking to close the gap on a historically low precept. But, common sense says there simply comes a point when a fiver doesn’t buy you much, regardless of where or how you’re spending it!
Shouldn’t we have a level playing field? Shouldn’t districts be able to include a care precept? Can’t all councils have a far reaching cap? Districts too play a key role in looking after people and in carrying out enforcement, providing welfare and benefits, leisure facilities and housing, reducing pressure on social care and the NHS through (unfunded) preventative work and enforcing rules within own communities - a role very much highlighted throughout the pandemic. It’s only fair districts are provided with the opportunity to increase their precepts in a meaningful way when that’s needed – so why not remove them entirely for all local authorities and leave increases to be determined at the (local) ballot box?
Tracy Bingham is head of finance at North West Leicestershire DC