Labour would freeze council tax for one year, says Keir Starmer

<span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Keir Starmer has pledged to use an extended windfall tax to freeze council tax for one year as Labour kicked off its local election campaign on Thursday.

Days before millions of people in England see their council tax bills rise by 5% in April, the Labour leader challenged Rishi Sunak to use “the money that is already on the table” and introduce the tax cut tomorrow.

However, Starmer would not commit to freezing council tax if Labour won the next general election.

In the local elections on 4 May more than 8,000 council seats will be contested across 84 metropolitan, unitary and district councils in England, as well as four English mayoralties.

The last time the seats were contested, in 2019, Theresa May’s government lost more than 1,000 councillors.

Labour, then under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, also lost seats, while the Liberal Democrats, Greens and local parties made gains.

Calling the prime minister “Mr 1%”, Starmer said at an event in Swindon that the Conservatives would always promise “tax cuts for the richest 1% while working people pay the problem, but this has to change”.

Starmer insisted the government had the money to freeze council tax bills but was choosing not to. Speaking alongside Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves, he said Labour’s council tax cut “matches the ambition” of communities that wanted change but were being failed by the Conservative government.

Labour was proposing “a tax cut for the 99%, for working people who facing a rise in their council tax and comparing it to the choice the Conservatives have made, which is a tax cut for the richest 1%”, he said.

“We’re announcing today that Labour would freeze next year’s council tax, using those windfall profits. It’s a choice the government can make now that money is on the table. We would obviously vote for it. Ten billion pounds and they’re not using it to help working people.”

He added: “I know that some people will say I’ve heard this before, nothing ever changes, you can’t really do anything. I understand, after 13 years of Tory failure, that sentiment, that sense that things aren’t changing. That’s what we’re up against: the Tories and their narrowing of our ambition of our communities.

“So we’ve got to go out there and each and every one of us make the case for change, show that we’re hungry for change.”

Starmer rejected claims from the Conservatives that the tax cut was hypothetical. The Tory party chair, Greg Hands, said: “They have no plan to introduce this if elected. They’re taking the British people for fools. If Labour was serious about cutting council tax Labour councils would be doing it now.”

But the Labour leader said: “The money we would use is on the table,” adding: “The government can actually do what we’re announcing today, and we’d support it.”

The Guardian understands that Labour would fund the council tax cut using its proposed extended windfall tax that the Conservatives did not adopt in full.

Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said the council tax cut pledge showed a clear difference between who the prime minister stood for and who Labour represented.

“We’ve been clear in our announcements that we stand for working people while the only permanent tax cuts in the budget a couple of weeks ago were for people who can save more than a million pounds in your pension,” she said.

“Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives will always stand with those who already have a lot. Labour are trying to do the right thing putting more money in the pockets of ordinary working people.”

Labour sees the 4 May poll as an opportunity to road-test some its policy ideas on NHS waiting lists and safer streets, as well as the cost of living crisis, rather than just going on the attack.