Atherstone Labour Councillors have won a reduction in the Atherstone Town Council Tax following a two year campaign. The TownCouncil agreed last Wednesday night to recommend the reduction of 17% in the council tax precept.
For two years Labour have demanded that the Conservative controlled Council rectify a mistake it made in 2013 by refunding council tax money which never have been taken.
Town Cllr Derek Pickard said,
“Two years ago the Conservatives unnecessarily increased the council tax by 21%. It was one of the highest council tax rises in Britain. On Wednesday everyone acknowledged it was a mistake. Atherstone people were overcharged.
“Last year the Conservatives accepted they had to reduce the council tax but refused Labour’s call to also refund the money which had been over charged in 2013-14. Instead they kept the money in council coffers. I am delighted that the main committee has now recommended that the money be refunded and I hope the main council will agree to it next Wednesday. The Council should give people their money back.”
The proposal will mean that the Town Council Tax for 2015-16 will fall from £61 to £50.11.
The background is that in 2013-14 when the national government reduced its annual grant to Town and Parish Councils. Conservatives on Atherstone Town Council assumed the cut would be passed on and therefore increased their town council tax precept. The Town Council Tax rose to £89 for the average band D household. However the grant had been paid via the Borough Council and Labour Borough Councillors decided it would restore the government cut so the 21% increase was unnecessary. No other parish or town council in North Warwickshire made the same mistake as Atherstone.
Labour Councillors began a campaign to repay the 21% overcharge to local Atherstone residents. For 2014-15 the Town Council tax was reduced by 21% to £61. But the controlling group of Conservative councillors refused Labour demands to refund people for the overcharge, preferring to keep the money in the council coffers.
This erupted into a public row in early 2014 when the Conservative MP, Dan Byles, issued a press release praising the 21% council tax reduction. Labour’s Mike O’Brien responded by pointing out that
- the reduction was due to an unnecessary overcharge in the previous year and
- residents had not been refunded their over payment from 2013-14.
He demanded the refund be paid. The issue became an important issue of principle for many Atherstone residents, leading to one resident regularly attending council meetings to ask for his money back.
Conservative Councillors at first denied that any refund was owed, however when Borough Finance Officers confirmed that it had never been refunded, the Conservatives backed down.
Cllr Derek Pickard, and Cllr Chris Clark who have led a campaign for the refund, with the backing of councillors from other parties including Cllrs Richard and Lorraine Freer.
Cllr Clark said,
“We have won the refund for Atherstone people after a two year battle. Once the Town Council confirms it the refund will be taken out of the council coffers and refunded in a council tax reduction. This will ends a humiliating tale of incompetent financial management by local Conservatives, which left local people without a refund for two years.”
Mike O’Brien has welcomed the news.
“This is what I asked for. After I pointed out that the money was still owed, the Labour councillors fought hard to get this refund. It took two years for the Tories to put it right. Seldom in a council chamber was so much guff been talked for so long to delay people getting a refund! This has been a very embarrassing episode for local Conservatives. Frankly the Council probably owes people interest on this loan for two years, but we have struggled hard enough to get the Tories to hand back the refund.”