Labour has ridiculed as “spin on stilts” a recent press release by North Warwickshire Conservatives which features their MP appearing to congratulate Conservative Councillors for cutting the Atherstone town council tax by 21%. In fact the Conservatives are currently OVERCHARGING residents by 21%!
(Above Labour Councillors in Atherstone chatting to local people in Atherstone Long Street)
In 2013 the Conservatives, who have a majority on the Atherstone Town Council, increased the council tax unnecessarily by a similar amount - in one of the biggest council tax increases in England. But it was all a mistake; they didn’t need the money from local people. They agreed to remove the overcharge from April but plan to keep the money paid during this year. Now Labour’s Mike O’Brien has said the people of Atherstone deserve to be given their money back.
Last years mistake over the council tax increase happened because the income of town councils was cut by a fifth when the government made changes in benefit rules. Borough councils were asked to plug the gap and were given a temporary government grant to pay parish and town councils. North Warwickshire Conservatives opposed passing the grant on to parish and town councils. It was unclear why they took this view. It seems Atherstone Tories believed they had a funding gap to fill and so they increased the council tax. But it soon became clear they had made a mistake. There was never a gap in funding because the Labour Borough Council had passed on the grant to the town council. So the council tax increase was unnecessary. The Conservatives had overcharged the people of Atherstone by about £5 per household to plug a funding gap that did not exist.
Labour asked the Conservatives what they planned to do about the overcharge and in February 2014 the town council voted to remove the over charge by reducing the council tax by 21% as from April, but the Conservatives have kept the £5 overpayment made by residents from April 2013 to April 2014.
This over charge error was only made in Atherstone. Other parish councils did not make the same mistake.
Mike O’Brien said,
“The behaviour of the Conservatives in putting out a press release with their MP congratulating them for reducing council tax by 21% was spin on stilts. Did they think no one would find out about their mistake?
“The honest thing would have been to have apologised to the people of Atherstone for the mistake last year, removed the overcharge and offered to repay the money overpaid by residents. Instead they put out a press statement claiming credit for a bogus 21% cut and failed to pay back the over charge.
“A shop that overcharges customers has to repay them. The Conservatives overcharged the people of Atherstone in 2013-14, then they have tried to cover up the overcharge with a press release because they want to keep peoples over payment. They should never have had this money in the first place. It should be repaid.
“People are owed money by Atherstone Conservative town councillors. I call on them to pay people back or at least reduce the town council tax by a similar amount.”
The Conservative press statement is on http://www.nwarksconservatives.co.uk/news/local-conservatives-reduce-council-precept-21
Mike O'Brien (centre) with Labour Councillors in Atherstone