Tories promise council tax freeze

The Tories have promised a two year freeze in council tax if they achieve power.

The promise constituted the most important part of shadow chancellor George Osborne’s speech today to the Conservative party conference, in which he tried to peg the country’s current economic woes on to 11 years of Labour government.

“We are going into partnership with local councils. If they find matching savings in their town hall, we will give them these savings from Whitehall,” he said.

“I can tell you today that the next Conservative government will freeze your council tax for at least two years. Every council tax bill of every family in every council that takes part will be frozen.”

The Tories plan to operate the freeze by using the consultancy and advertising budget in Whitehall. They will use that money to offer additional resources to local councils who keep the council tax rise to 2.5 per cent or below.

Each council will be free to accept or reject the contract.

Mr Osborne framed the Conservative approach to finance as one of sensible fiscal prudence, laying out a range of measures to taker control of national debt.

Mr Brown’s fiscal rules would be scrapped and replaced by a mandate specifying falling debt as a percentage of GDP.

A new Office for Budget Responsibility would be created to independently assess the sustainability of public finances and audit the nation’s debt, including off-sheet liabilities.

The Bank of England would be given a far greater role in the system of financial regulation, along with the FSA and the Treasury. It will be asked to take a broader role in managing debt in the banking system by maintaining communications with the FSA and setting out its assessments of market-wide risk.

The FSA will also receive extra resources, with an increase in the amount of funds and skilled secondees financial institutions have to contribute.

To prevent another run on a bank, the Tories are also proposing a system of deposit insurance for savers for the first £50,000 of deposits, to be paid out within a week. Mr Osborne says this will restore consumer confidence in the banking system.

But Mr Osborne also confessed that because of the state of the national finances, a Conservative government would not be able to do all the things it wishes to do in office, such as tax cuts.

“The cupboard is bare. There is no more money,” he said.

“So it’s no good talking about the big up-front tax giveaways we might like to make, or the big spending increases it might be nice to have.”

Other political parties were quick to react to the proposals.

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “George Osborne has proved that he doesn’t understand how Britain’s banking system works.

“If we had done what he suggests Bradford & Bingley would have gone under, with significant risks for depositors, confidence and the stability of the banking system.

“This is an incoherent and irresponsible approach, with no answers to the current problems in the financial system.”

Liberal Democrat economics spokesman Vince Cable said: “George Osborne has shown that he still needs a few more years experience in the real world before he is ready to be chancellor.

“He has continued to flip-flop on hedge funds. Last week he didn’t see a problem with them, and now he thinks short selling should be banned. What does he really think?”

The Green party described the creation of an Office for Budget Responsibility as anti-democratic.

“We already have an Office of Budget Responsibility,” said party leader Caroline Lucas. “It’s called parliament.”

“We don’t need another quango, filled with the same corporate bosses that got us into this mess, with a few Tory donors and ultra-right think-tank wonks for good measure.”

Today’s speech marks the first Conservative attempt to rein back the economic agenda from Labour following an unsteady response to the current financial chaos.