The Conservative minister in charge of local government has blasted Cornwall councillors saying they “will find it very difficult” to meet the eyes of the electorate if they go ahead with their planned pay rise this year.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles advised councillors to invest in “the darkest sunglasses they can possibly get” before they next face voters if they are to push ahead with an inflation-busting 20 per cent rise in allowances, which they voted for themselves last year.
The bump in councillors’ pay packets, from a basic allowance of £12,128 to £14,600, was described back in October as a move to attract “new, young” councillors by cabinet member for sustainability John Pollard.
It will come into effect after the elections this May and aims to benefit a new cohort of councillors - although the decision, which current council leader Jim Currie described as “unfortunate” and “made in haste at the end of a very long meeting,” could be reviewed.
Amidst voting to boost their own pay packets, Cornwall councillors have also been discussing plans to fill a £6 million black hole in central government funding by taxing everyone of working age, regardless of their ability to pay.
So-called council tax benefit, which is paid as a rebate against your tax bill and is designed to help people on the lowest incomes pay their rent, will be slashed under their proposals from up to 100 per cent for the poorest individuals to a maximum of 75 per cent for everybody.
This means that everyone of working age in Cornwall, no matter how little income they actually have, will be required to pay a minimum of 25 per cent council tax.
“That struck me as being obscene,” Mr Pickles has said.
“I believe councils should lead from the front, not put their nose in the trough.”
Councillor Currie said he was “disappointed” by Mr Pickles’ comments over council tax benefit as the government had “created” the issue by transferring responsibility to local councils.
He said that a decision on the “level of contribution working age people should make towards their council tax” will be made at the next meeting of the full council on January 15.
“While we appreciate the concerns which have been expressed by some people, we simply do not have the money to pick up the bill for this,” he added.
The introduction of a minimum payment has been mooted elsewhere around the country but opponents say it is a poll tax in all but name.
Attempts by a previous Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to introduce a poll tax or “community charge” led to widespread rioting throughout Britain in 1990.
The violent disorder directly contributed to her downfall and resignation later that year.