Plans to increase council tax in Sheffield ‘penalise’ residents who pay their bills, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has claimed.
The Labour-run city council has frozen council tax for the last four years, using a Government grant to pay towards the cost, but this year is proposing an increase of 1.99 per cent.
Sheffield Hallam MP and Liberal Democrat leader Mr Clegg said it was ‘immensely frustrating’ the council had made the decision rather than taking Government money which would total more than £1m - although Labour leaders say the way it has been delivered has changed.
Mr Clegg said: “We have an extraordinary situation in which Labour are turning away extra money from the Government because they would rather local pensioners and hardworking families who can least afford it.”
He said chiefs should focus on collecting unpaid council tax - which currently stands at £31.9m - before increasing bills.
The MP added: “It is totally unfair to penalise the majority of people who play by the rules and pay their bills instead of tackling those that can afford to pay but won’t.”
Sheffied Council announced its planned rise this week as it battles to find £63m of savings after Government cuts - which have already totalled £240m since 2010.
If the rise goes ahead, residents would pay an extra £29 a year on a Band D property.
Town hall chiefs say the increase will generate £1.3m on top of what a grant would have provided - which will make a ‘big difference’.
Labour leaders pointed out that Mr Clegg had spoken out in favour of councils being able to raise tax by up to two per cent without holding a referendum.
The way the funding is paid is complex.
The £1.9m grant given to the council in 2013-14 was removed as part of the Local Government Settlement last month, which council chiefs say ‘shifted the goalposts’.
But they could still have accepted central Government cash equivalent to a one per cent rise in council tax.
However they claim this was a short-term solution more like a ‘loan’.
Coun Ben Curran, cabinet member for finance, said: “We have frozen council tax for the past four years, but the problem is Nick Clegg has now taken away 50 per cent of our main Government grant and we can no longer afford to continue to freeze council tax.
“Most councils across the country are now being left with no option but to increase council tax, as the cuts we are facing get harder to make each year.
“The money the Government is offering is only equal to a one per cent rise in council tax. The increase, which is 38p for most households in the city, raises extra money which is vital in protecting frontline services.”