Conservatives back council tax referendum

Graham Cox, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Hove, is one of the authors
Graham Cox, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Hove, is one of the authors

Leading figures in the Conservative Party have thrown their weight behind a council tax referendum.

Leading figures in Brighton and Hove Conservative Party have thrown their weight behind a council tax referendum.

In an exclusive article in the Brighton and Hove Independent, the surprise call to "let the people decide" is made by Councillor Graham Cox, who is also Conservative parliamentary candidate for Hove, Tony Janio, Conservative councillor for Hangleton, and Shaun Gunner, Conservative council candidate for Westbourne and a former aide to Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown.

They state: "In Brighton and Hove’s increasingly-fractious debate about the level of council tax, politicians claim to know what the public 'really' think.

"The two left-wing parties - Labour and the Greens - are now both advocating above-inflation rises in council tax.

"As with Scottish independence, our personal view is that it is now time for the public to have their say. We trust the residents of Brighton and Hove."

The intervention is set to ignite the debate about what should happen to council tax as the city council faces a financial crisis caused by a £26 million funding gap.

The Green minority administration is arguing for a 5.9% increase, which would require a citywide referendum; Labour is again pushing for a "threshold" 1.99% increase; the Conservatives have repeatedly argued for a freeze.

In their article, the Conservative authors clearly have Labour in their sights: "The ambition-less and uninspiring Labour Party have a sense of manifest destiny. They give the impression of thinking that, without any effort, control of the council will fall into their lap."

The article raises the possibility that Conservative councillors will abstain in the forthcoming votes on the Green budget.

For the first time, there is now a possibility that a proposed 5.9% council tax rise will be put to citizens, who could have the final say on May 7, the same day as the council elections and the general election.

Although Labour will argue a referendum - which could cost up to £150,000 - will be a waste of money, the Conservatives will hope any increase will be roundly rejected.