New Bill could end £1bn West Yorkshire transport fund

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Bradford Council leader David Green Bradford Council leader David Green

A £1bn transport upgrade for West Yorkshire and beyond has been thrown into doubt by the Government, Labour has warned.

The investment is expected to bring about 20,000 jobs as well as a host of road and rail improvements, but will see a small levy added to people’s council tax bills.

Currently, local authorities cannot increase their council tax by two per cent unless they hold, and win, a public referendum on the rise.

The Government now wants to extend this limit to include precepts such as these.

The move, under the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, is expected to become law next month.

But Labour MPs have warned the new rule would effectively scupper ambitious plans for a ten-year fund which would have paid for more than £1bn of transport improvements for the region.

Bradford Council leader David Green said the Government had already agreed to the idea of a transport fund precept, and accused it of moving the goalposts.

He said there were no plans to increase council tax in Bradford by more than two per cent, including the precept, so there was no imminent danger of a referendum in the district, but it would only take one district to hold and lose a referendum to threaten the whole project.

This lack of long-term certainty could drive away investment in the region, he said.

However, speaking in the Commons, local Government minister Brandon Lewis insisted the Government supported the transport plan and denied that the move would jeopardise it.

He said given the “relatively small” council tax increases involved, there was no reason to suspect they would force any referendums. He added that council tax bills should be kept down to help hard-working people.

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