James Grundy MP: ​Government’s real council tax position

Not for the first time, last week Wigan Council ended up with egg on its face at the council meeting to set out this year’s council budget and the level of council tax.
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​Only a fortnight ago in this very newspaper, Labour representatives from the council were claiming that they were increasing council tax by almost 5% “under instruction from the Government”, in an attempt to deflect public anger over the size of this proposed council tax increase.

Indeed this claim was attributed to Coun Nazia Rehman, Portfolio Holder for Finance at Wigan Council who was quoted as saying: “This is not a decision we have taken lightly, it is something the Government has instructed us to do.”

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Furthermore, Wigan Labour Council leader David Molyneux was also quoted in the same article as saying: “I am not saying we are doing this with hands tied behind our backs, but it looking as though we will be taking Government guidance on this.”

Leigh MP James GrundyLeigh MP James Grundy
Leigh MP James Grundy

Observant readers of this newspaper, however, will have learned over many years to take such claims by Wigan Council with at least a single grain of salt.

On this occasion an entire Dead Sea’s worth of salt turned out to be necessary.

Normally Wigan Council can get away with exaggerated rhetoric when it comes to passing blame onto the Government for their failings, but on this occasion their hyperbole was so grandiose and their claims so transparently false that it became a textbook example of politically motivated overreach.

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Unfortunately for the council, upon writing to Local Government Minister Lee Rowley to establish the accuracy of these eyebrow-raising claims, he confirmed that the Government had given no such instruction to the council.

As the Minister wrote to me in his response: “You have asked about the Government’s overall position with regards to council tax and, in particular, whether there is any expectation from central Government that local authorities should increase their council tax in the coming financial year. The answer to that question is no.”

Furthermore the Minister went on to say: “The Government recognises that decisions about council tax are best taken by individual local authorities themselves and that they should be held to account by their electorates for the decisions they take.”

Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, the Minister went on to say “decisions about whether to raise, lower of freeze council tax (and whether to trigger the attendant referendum which may apply) ultimately remain a matter for the authority themselves”.

Were this a Youtube video, it would be titled “Minister destroys Wigan Council claims with facts and logic.”

Never has one of Wigan Council’s dubious claims been so thoroughly and easily exposed as esoteric local folklore.

I hope Wigan Council will remember how this matter ended for them before making similarly misconceived claims in future.

I am sure the voting public will.