Bristol’s Green councillors today called on the council to provide evidence to support its decision to continue with a controversial consultation on cuts to council tax support. Green Councillors first challenged the proposed cuts back in August, and suggested the consultation itself could be illegal.
In September the City Council’s legal officers informed Councillor Eleanor Combley, Leader of the Green councillors, that they had received advice from a QC showing that the consultation is legal. However, despite being elected Members of the Council, the Green councillors were not allowed to view this legal advice – even when they promised confidentiality.
Councillor Carla Denyer first identified the similarities between Bristol’s Council Tax consultation and the Haringey consultation which was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court. She commented on this latest obstruction:
“The Labour-run Council is preventing opposition councillors from doing our job of scrutinising their decisions. This is what multi-party democracy and opposition councillors are for. We have raised legitimate concerns about the legality and morality of the proposals and we have effectively been told ‘never you mind, we’ll take care of this’. It’s not good enough.”
Councillor Denyer also suggested the refusal to disclose evidence to councillors was in contrast to the Mayor’s frequently espoused commitment to transparent government and an open door policy. Councillor Denyer said:
“Marvin’s words on transparency are laudable but he sometimes needs to follow through in his actions – holding a consultation that offers people no real choice, and then hiding the legal justification for said consultation from opposition councillors, hardly screams ‘open government’”
The Greens have opposed the Labour administration’s proposed cuts to council tax support as they would likely to lead to significant costs for the poorest residents in the city, who face council bailiffs and possible homelessness if they are unable to pay. Councillor Eleanor Combley said:
“We know that cuts to council tax support will result in debt, bailiff visits, and increased food and fuel poverty for people in the City who are already struggling just to get by. We know that they are likely to result in increased costs to the Council through extra strain on other services, and that they will see more Bristolians pushed into homelessness and going to food banks to survive. Opposing these cuts is simply about protecting the City’s poorest residents, something one might think the Labour administration would be able to agree with us on.”
Councillor Combley added that due to the extra costs involved in collection and pressure on other services, cuts to council tax support would likely cause a great deal of pain in return for relatively small savings. Evidence collected by the Joseph Rowntree foundation has suggested that cuts to council tax support may be a ‘false economy’, and Camden council recently reinstated 100% support.