Council tax freeze extended for another year

Money to extend a council tax freeze in England to 2012-13 has been unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne.

The government cannot force councils to freeze bills but it is offering to give those that limit spending rises to 2.5% the money they need. A similar pledge was included in the coalition agreement and Winchester City Council and Hampshire County Council were able to take advantage of the offer for local people.

The Chancellor made the announcement in his speech to Conservative Party Conference where he also said there would be no deviation from the coalition's Government's deficit reduction plan. He also said that the perilous state of the UK economy meant he could not promise new tax cuts.

Winchester MP Steve Brine added: "I am a believer in low taxes, for individuals and businesses but I think tax cuts should be for life not just for Christmas. To cut taxes now and to increase our borrowing to do it would be the height of irresponsibility and only make things worse."

Mr Osborne used his speech to set out a number of new measures to support business and help rebalance the economy. To help get the economy moving the Chancellor announced that he will look at the options to get credit flowing to small firms through 'credit easing'. This would inject money directly into parts of the economy most in need, for example small businesses, without adding to the deficit.

From April 2013 the Government will introduce fees for employment tribunals. There is currently no charge for an applicant who wants to make an employment tribunal claim - unlike in the civil and family courts, where fees are routine. Fears of vexatious claims often act as a disincentive for businesses to employ new people. Introducing fees will help give businesses the confidence they need to create new jobs. The government will consult on the level and structure for fees, and on ensuring remissions are available for the lowest paid.

The government will also double the qualification period for unfair dismissal tribunals. Currently an employee can claim for unfair dismissal after being employed for only a year. We will double that, so from April 2012 employees will only be able to make a claim after two years. "Day one" rights - such as the right not to be discriminated against - will not be affected. This reform is a priority for business groups, including the CBI, who have long been calling for reform of the employment tribunal system in order to help businesses create jobs.

There will also be a £150 million investment in improving mobile coverage across the country. Working with Ofcom mobile phone coverage will be extended to 99 per cent of the country. Currently in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland only 90 per cent of the population has good mobile coverage, while across the UK as whole there is only 95 per cent coverage. In consultation with local communities new mobile phone masts will be installed, which will improve coverage for 6 million people. This will improve connectivity and productivity across the country.

Pictured; George Osborne delivers his 2011 Conference speech

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