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Plymouth Labour group wins council tax row

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022 12:27pm

By Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

Plymouth City Hall (Courtesy: Local Democracy Reporting Service)

No council tax rise this year

People in Plymouth will not face higher council tax bills in the coming year following fierce opposition to an increase from some councillors. 

The opposition Labour group won a vote for a council tax freeze; arguing hard-pressed Plymothians were facing a cost of living crisis

They insisted their budget amendment was fully-costed and would ensure savings of £2.5 million.

But at a full council meeting to discuss the city’s budget for 2022/23 on Monday, members heard how the council had faced a significant loss in revenue by not maximising council tax income in previous years.

Leader cllr Nick Kelly (Conservative, Compton) wanted council tax rates increased by 1.74 per cent; a quarter of a percentage point less than the maximum allowed before needing to call a referendum.

He said it would only cost an average of about £2.50 for each household per month. 

“We started off with a £20 million black hole and despite our efforts, we face a similar gap for the year 23/24,” cllr Kelly said. 

He praised the government for the help it had given in recent years, especially during the pandemic.  

“This Conservative government has given grants to thousands of Plymouth businesses that have been impacted. 

“To many this has been a lifeline that saved them and helped put them in a position to build back.”

And he suggested his fellow Tories had helped make it possible. 

“It was a remarkable effort by our team to get out so many payments so quickly.”

Nick Kelly - Leader Plymouth Council (Conservative, Compton (Courtesy: Local Democracy Reporting Service)

Cllr Kelly explained that the proposed budget was fully costed and would have meant an increase in overall revenue resources of £3.35 million, comprising an increase of £2.12 million for council tax and £1.22 million for adult social care. 

The total net revenue budget for 2022/23 would have been £199.87 million.

And cllr Kelly said, despite increases in council tax, some people may be better off.  

“In 2023, £1,357.99 would have been asked for under a Band A property. With the rebate that comes down to £1,207.99,” he explained. 

“That is an actual reduction of 11 per cent.

“And you know what that means – that somebody, this year, based on the proposals that we’re putting forward, actually pays £111.95 less than they did last year.”  

It was also argued that an additional levy of one per cent be added to pay for adult social care, a precept that both major parties agreed to.  

Despite the Tory group’s arguments, Labour proposed an amendment, “To approve a council tax freeze at the 2021/22 levels for 2022/23 (0 per cent increase).”

Labour group leader, cllr Tudor Evans OBE (Ham) said it was untrue to say the government had been helpful and accused Conservatives of cutting back.

“Three quarters of a billion pounds, which used to come to this council to be spent on services in this city, has disappeared through austerity,” said Cllr Evans. 

“So, any conversation about help from this government for this council and these citizens needs to start with a figure of minus £750 million and counting.

“We for example have below national average spending on public health, even with the increase announced this year, the gap that Plymouth people get to spend on their health – and by the way, we have incredible health problems here in Plymouth – is massively dwarfed by the amount per person that goes to – for example – the city of London by almost £2,000 a head.”

Tudor Evans (Labour Leader, Plymouth (Courtesy: Local Democracy Reporting Service)

Cllr Evans said this was not the time to get people to pay more money when they are already having to face higher bills and an increase in national insurance in April. 

“The largest tax rise in recent history, well, for 70 years, is going to hit hard in the wage packets and into bank accounts,” he said. 

“And we on this side want to be on the side of Plymouth people who are struggling at the moment with the cost of living crisis.”

But the report suggested that if councillors failed to back the tax increase it could result in the need for further savings in future years. 

Before the meeting shadow cabinet member for finance, cllr Mark Lowry (Labour, Honicknowle) said Labour’s amendment would avoid, what he described as the Conservative’s “vanity projects” which used money unnecessarily. 

In an often heated debate with angry claims and counter-claims, both sides, at times, had to be called to order by lord mayor and chair Cllr Terri Beer (Conservative, Plympton Erle). 

Conservative deputy leader cllr Patrick Nicholson (Plympton St. Mary) made a direct remark to cllr Lowry.

“You are pathetic in your management of our assets and that is why the leader of the council is today trying to ensure there’s money to maintain our assets,” he said.

After councillors complained, he retracted the insult and said: “I’m happy to correct that. 

“It’s the Labour Party that are pathetic in the administration of the council’s affairs rather than cllr Lowry personally. 

“He just happened to be the the cabinet member for finance.”

Some arguments for the amendment to freeze council tax focussed on challenges being faced by Plymouth residents. 

Cllr Jemima Laing (Labour, Stoke) spoke about one person she had visited in her ward who was already unable to pay his bills.

“There is someone in my ward today who will not put the heating on because he cannot afford it,” she said. 

“And there are doubtless people like that in all of your wards, too. 

“And these are not people who can afford to pay for the Plymouth Conservative group’s uncosted manifesto pledges.”

Labour’s amendment was passed by 29 votes to 25 with two abstentions which means there will be no increase in council for the next financial year except for the one per cent ringfenced for adult social care.  

In other elements of the budget, there will be no change to business rates in 2022/23.

The government’s 2021 comprehensive spending review set the multiplier for  business rates at zero per cent but said grants would be available to compensate for the resultant impact. 

As a result, business rates income in Plymouth will increase by £2.1 million in 2022/23 from the current £63 million to £65.1 million. 

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