In a recent press release, the Labour party claimed that:
Where Labour controls the local council, households will pay on average £351 less next year than those living in Tory areas.
In contrast, the Conservatives suggested that:
The difference is actually pretty clear: on average, it’s almost £100 less for a Band D home in Conservative-run areas.
I will attempt to replicate these claims, examining difficulties with my approach.
Average tax per dwelling: I can nearly replicate the Labour claim that average tax paid per dwelling is £351 lower.
Band D home: There appears to be no large, systematic difference in council tax paid by Band D properties, contrary to the Conservative claim.
Open up: the two parties should share the methods behind their analyses of council tax, for the public to examine.
Who costs more?
The two main parties appear to be making similar claims: when their party is in control of a local council, the council tax levied is (on average) lower.
Labour’s claim is based on average council tax paid per dwelling. Their press release refers to multiple years, but the main claim supposedly refers to 2019/20. The Conservative assertion does not state what year is being considered, but is referring to council tax levied on ‘Band D’ properties.
The GOV.UK website contains live tables on Band D council tax and average council tax per dwelling. In this article, I will use the higher measure of area council tax including parish precepts, for 2019/20. Wikipedia contains a list of local authorities by their overall control. Joining the data-sets and removing null values in 2019/20 means we can compare the mean and median (middle) values for these two council tax measures:
The big difference in the average council tax per dwelling can be seen in the distribution of local authorities:
There does not appear a large, systematic difference in the area council tax on Band D properties, including parish precepts:
What problems are there?
Whilst the council tax levied against Band D properties is useful for comparison, average council tax paid per dwelling may better reflect the actual amount of council tax residents pay. However, this latter measure may reflect the types of houses and dwellings in a local authority area.
Wikipedia was used because it was a publicly-available resource. Generally, an official source would be preferable, and the Wikipedia article may contain errors.
The two parties may be using a different definition for ‘controlled areas’, rather than focusing on overall control. This approach misses that, for some areas, council tax is levied in more than one tier of local government, such as smaller district councils and larger county councils. Different layers of local government may be controlled by different parties. Additionally, central government policy may influence the cost of local council tax.
Null values are an issue too: some local authorities have merged, without updates to the local authority control list.
An example would be the conurbation council of Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole. This new local authority has a Band D council tax of £1,788 in 2019/20. The composite parts had rates in 2018/19 of £1,718 (Bournemouth), £1,888 (Christchurch) and £1,679 (Poole).
I can nearly replicate the Labour claim, but do not find a large, systematic difference in the area council tax (including parish precepts) paid on Band D properties.
It falls to both parties to open up with their methods, and show the workings behind their claims on council tax.
Data on average council tax per dwelling and Band D council tax was drawn from the GOV.UK website. Wikipedia has a list of local authorities by overall control. Some cleaning in naming conventions was required to get matches. A Google Sheet contains the data and tables. The R Pubs article shows how to create the summary table and graphs used in this article.