Tories accused of ‘lies on a grand scale’ over Council Tax

VOTE 2014 logoThe gloves have come off going into the final week of campaigning for Thursday’s local elections, with Labour accusing the incumbent Tories of outright lies.

Leaflets distributed in key wards this week have accused the Croydon Conservatives of deliberately misleading voters in the controversial, paid-for four-page advertisement wrapped round the previous week’s Croydon Guardian free paper. The wraparound attempted to pass itself off as a genuine news coverage, predicting a 27 per cent increase in Council Tax if Labour take control of the Town Hall next week.

“It’s a political lie on a grand scale,” Tony Newman, the Labour leader on Croydon Council, said today.

Senior figures in Croydon’s Labour group are also furious about what they describe as “gutter politics” after Mario Creatura, the Tory candidate in Coulsdon West, distributed campaign material claiming that former Croydon North MP Malcolm Wicks had endorsed the Bedroom Tax. Wicks, who died of cancer in 2012, had been a government minister 10 years earlier when a pilot scheme looked at ways of offering council tenants incentives if they wanted to downsize their homes. Wicks never endorsed the Tory-led government’s Bedroom Tax or any proposals like it.

The Labour Party's response to the Conservatives' false claims on Council Tax

The Labour Party’s response to the Conservatives’ false claims on Council Tax

Creatura, who has a full-time state-paid job working as the assistant to Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, was described as “a vile little liar” by one Labour cabinet member, who accused him of “trying to smear the reputation of someone who’s no longer around to defend themselves”.

They added: “There are no depths that the likes of Creatura won’t sink to in a desperate attempt to cling on to power.”

The Tories’ Croydon Guardian advert is hardly a paragon of great campaign literature or decent newspaper design. As first reported by Inside Croydon, the Tories blundered when they managed to omit the names of their candidates in one whole ward.

The Croydon Guardian group hardly protected its own reputation for independent journalism by taking the Conservative Party’s money for the ad – estimated at a hefty five-figure sum – since the publishers did not ensure that a disclaimer to show clearly that it was an advertisement was featured prominently on every page.

Labour’s response has been to distribute directly to households in key wards a newspaper of its own, featuring the headline “Fury at Tory tax lies”. Politicians usually shy away from using such direct language or accusing their political opponents of outright lies – probably because they realise that they are always vulnerable to such accusations themselves.

In Croydon, Labour’s political Achilles’ heel has been the 27 per cent rise in Council Tax when they were in charge of the Town Hall in 2003.

That rise was in part necessary because of a shift in the balance between the amounts raised by the borough councils and by City Hall. As a consequence, Council Tax rises in all London boroughs rose by significant amounts in that period: in Westminster, Council Tax went up by a staggering 271 per cent in “real terms” (that is, adjusted for inflation) during the 1994-2006 period under a Tory council. In our neighbouring borough of Bromley, Council Tax bills rose by 99 per cent in real terms in the same period. Apart from three years of LibDem/Lab joint control during the period in question, Bromley is another Conservative-run council.

So the Council Tax rises in London boroughs in that timeframe were due to systemic changes rather more than any party policy. But Croydon’s Tories never mention that.

They also manage to overlook that it would be impossible for any political party in charge of Croydon Town Hall to raise Council Tax by more than 1.99 per cent. That’s because it is the law. Croydon Conservatives should know this very well, since in 2013 they increased our Council Tax by the maximum amount allowed. Had they tried to increase Council Tax by any more, then they would have needed to hold a local referendum for approval.

After eight years of Conservative control of Croydon Town Hall, all our Council Tax bills are now higher than they have ever been, and yet the standard of services we receive from the council are acknowledged to be worse than ever.

In fact, the Tories are only promising to freeze Council Tax in Croydon for the next two years – the same election pledge made by Labour.

“Croydon Tories know that the law of the land forbids any council, regardless of political colour, to increase Council Tax beyond 2 per cent,” Newman said. “They are also acutely aware Labour councillors voted to freeze Council Tax this year and next.

“As they become increasingly desperate about their own chances of political success, to willfully mislead the people of Croydon about Labour’s tax plans,  just weeks before an election is frankly a political lie on a grand scale.”

Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:

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4 Responses to Tories accused of ‘lies on a grand scale’ over Council Tax

  1. davidcallam says:

    There’s more heat than light here.

    Labour should have anticipated the Tories buying space in the local rag and done the same themselves: its no good whingeing afterwards.

    But their failure to do so might not matter much. We can tell from the typical turnout figures (30% at best) that a substantial majority of Croydon residents couldn’t care less who runs the Town Hall. I disagree with that view, but I sympathise with those who point out that the local authority is bound hand and foot by the way it is financed.

    Hence the shenanigans over Fisher’s Folly (Bernard Weatherill House) – Croydon built its previous headquarters with money it generated itself from non-domestic rates. Now that’s what I call localism! And when we return to that kind of financial responsibility I suspect more people will take local elections more seriously.

  2. declare2 says:

    So what if there was some sort of an accounting change in 2003, the fact that there was a ‘shift in the balance between the amounts raised by the borough councils and by City Hall’ doesn’t mean that much to us, we still had to pay a 27% increase in council tax. Also we don’t live in other boroughs we live here and the council tax in other places isn’t our business.
    At the time of the increase there was also a Labour government and Ken Livingston was in City Hall so it cannot be described as anything other than a Labour tax rise.
    What did the local Labour politicians of the time do to stop their government imposing such a burdensome accounting change on the citizens of Croydon? ..nothing I suspect.
    These people can never be trusted again.

    • In the past eight years, what have the Conservatives in Croydon done to reduce, or reverse, “such burdensome” Council Tax on the people of Croydon?

      The answer is straightforward: not a thing. They have kept the Council Tax levels they inherited, and increased them even more.

      Meanwhile, they voted to increase their own allowances to record levels.

      And now they are also proven liars, as well as self-serving hypocrites.

  3. Rod Davies says:

    No one wants to pay tax, but everyone wants public services.
    What I find disturbing is the claim that if Labour get into power that disproportionate sums will be allocated to north Croydon, evidenced by a proposal to have weekly refuse collections in areas of very high population density and limited public & private space.

    I would like to see a breakdown of service usage, service by service, of council expenditure against council tax collection ward by ward. I suspect that we would see that far from the poor inner Croydon areas being subsidised by leafy outer Croydon, it is in fact the other way around.

    For instance if you live in a 15 foot wide terraced house in inner Croydon within a mile of Factory Lane depot, the time taken & cost of your bin being emptied is likely to be significantly less compared with the low density areas of outer Croydon.
    Equally residents of inner Croydon have little or no recourse to the roads of the outer Croydon suburbs, but were the inner Croydon roads to be denied to the residents of outer Croydon they would find themselves trapped. Thus in estimating the cost of roads we need to factor in that outer Croydon resident use the inner Croydon road network whereas the obverse is not the case.
    While the Conservatives might bemoan a proposal to increase refuse collection in north inner Croydon, they are peculiarly silent about gritting & snow clearance in winter when the Council deploys resources to allow the residents of the hilly outer areas to travel. Surely if people chose to live in areas likely to be cut off by snow & ice, that is their life style choice and not something that the greater community should subsidise.

    We need a decent objective debate about Council Tax and what level of tax is appropriate given the size and nature of the town, and the cost delivering services. Being in the Southeast, basic costs are inherently higher than the rest of the country.
    If we believe that Council Tax is being poorly used that is an entirely different matter.

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