Councils across Oxfordshire had little choice but to increase council tax by the maximum allowed, according to the councillor who holds the purse strings in one district.
Councillor Dan Levy (Lib Dem, Eynsham & Cassington), West Oxfordshire District Council’s cabinet member for finance who also sits on Oxfordshire County Council, said his district had been “pretty much commanded by central government”.
That assertion was challenged by a member of the Conservative opposition, but Councillor Levy insisted the implication had been made through “very strong hints”.
West Oxfordshire District Council collects council tax on behalf of all of the bodies that receive it, including Oxfordshire County Council and the fire and police authorities.
Each body decides how much its part of council tax will be increased by up to the maximum amount permitted by the national government.
The district receives a small portion of what households pay and can only put up its part by a maximum of £5 for the financial year starting in April 2023, which it plans to do. It will raise an extra £235,000.
Oxfordshire County Council plans to put its part up by 4.99 per cent – 2.99 per cent plus two per cent that must be allocated to adult social care – which is approximately £82 per year for what is considered to be an average (band D) property.
Discussing his district’s budget proposals at a meeting for all councillors this week, Councillor Levy said: “We have pretty much been given an order by the central government that we need to raise council tax by the maximum amount allowed.
“The county council will no doubt increase by the maximum amount it is allowed to… and has also been told that it pretty much has to charge an additional two per cent to pay for adult social care on top of that.
“If we don’t all charge that, first of all, we will not get grants from the central government, which we require to provide the services that we have to provide.
“Secondly, we would damage future generations. If you can only increase your council tax by a specified amount and don’t when you can, then those future generations will not be able to raise additional money.”
Councillor Suzi Coul (Con, Alvescot and Filkins) cast doubt over that.
“I was in a meeting with the minister for local government last Thursday who categorically said that this was not true,” she said.
“I would like to know where this direction came from, whether it was ministerial or whether it was civil service.”
Councillor Levy replied: “The government would never do anything quite so crass as to instruct us, but it can certainly drop very strong hints that if we don’t do our bit by raising council tax and other charges, they are not going to do their bit by supporting the things we do.
“That has been made particularly clear with some of the county council stuff with adult social care, where there is not an obligation but a strong emphasis on that additional two per cent.
“Across the board, the strong impression has been given that we are expected to do our bit.
“Let’s be honest, the parties that are currently in charge (at West Oxfordshire) are quite keen on delivering better services and doing good things for the residents. To do that, we have to charge.
“We don’t need instruction to think those are the important things, but we have pretty much been instructed to do them.”
The district’s budget for 2023/24 is currently a draft and will be finalised at a meeting for all West Oxfordshire councillors on 15 February.