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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Media get it wrong again

This morning's Telegraph contains the rather startling suggestion that at a meeting between Government ministers and local government leaders, a senior Liberal Democrat indicated that councils should be free to charge students council tax.

They say that minutes of a meeting held last October between Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary and senior figures at the Local Government Association, suggest that Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the leader of Liberal Democrat councillors and head of Portsmouth City Council said: “Local authorities should have greater discretion over Council Tax exemptions and discounts, such as the student exemption”.

However, in the tradition of never letting facts get in the way of a good headline, you have to scroll down to the very bottom of the article to find that the minutes are inaccurate and that the allegation that this is Liberal Democrat policy has no foundation whatsoever:

The Liberal Democrats today insisted that they were not in favour of ending the student exemption for council tax and said the minutes were not an accurate reflection of their views.

In a statement, the party said: "These minutes are not an accurate representation of what was a much broader policy discussion.

“Gerald is not in favour of getting rid of the student exemption. He is in favour of proper localism, where councils have the power to decide what is right for them in their areas.

“Neither the Government nor the Liberal Democrats are in favour of ending the
student exemption.”

No doubt the Labour Party will not be slow to pick up on this wrong-headed story as well. Before they do so they should bear in mind that though Liberal Democrats do want to keep the exemption for students, at least one Labour MP takes a contrary view. Sheffield Labour MP, Clive Betts put forward an amendment to the House of Commons in January 2012 to make students pay council tax.
Having heard councillor Vernon-Jackson expound his views on other matters, I suspect that he said something very similar to what is reported but then thought better of it. Why he remains an LGA group leader is a mystery.

As regards the other point, isn't it a bit naive to suggest that council tax is not already 'incorporated' into rent and service charges by landlords?
The comment attributed to Vernon-Jackson would appear to have actually come from Sir Merrick Cockell (Conservative Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council)according to the Huffington Post
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