Tories call for council tax referendum

LONDON Tue Nov 13, 2007 10:11am GMT

The leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, addresses the media before the annual party conference, in Blackpool, September 29, 2007. Councils should be forced to hold a referendum if they want to introduce local tax increases above a set threshold, Cameron said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, addresses the media before the annual party conference, in Blackpool, September 29, 2007. Councils should be forced to hold a referendum if they want to introduce local tax increases above a set threshold, Cameron said on Tuesday.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - Councils should be forced to hold a referendum if they want to introduce local tax increases above a set threshold, Conservative leader David Cameron said on Tuesday.

Under the Tory plan, councils would be obliged to poll residents on tax rises if the hike passes a "trigger threshold", which would be set by parliament.

If most people voted against a council tax rise, they would receive a rebate the following year.

Currently, council tax is capped in England and Wales at a figure set down by central government.

Cameron told BBC radio that the proposal was about devolving central power and encouraging democratic accountability.

"I think it's right to give people the ultimate say," Cameron said.

"If a council had a very specific proposal and they wanted to take that to the people and say 'here is the case for paying more taxes for this extra service', then they would be able to do so.

"At the moment they're completely incapable of doing that because the cap falls from ministerial diktat, and under our system it would be local people saying so."

However, Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, was sceptical.

"It's a very limited reform," he told BBC Radio. "It isn't tackling the problem that local government still only has one tax and it's a pretty difficult one to use.

"Council taxes are a very, very awkward tax. People are not very enthusiastic about higher levels of council tax increases," he added.

Communities secretary Hazel Blears said: "Any local council can hold a local community vote on the level of council tax increase, and some of them already do ... you don't need some new law."

(Reporting by Johanna Leggatt; Editing by Steve Addison)

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