Brighton and Hove’s controversial council tax hike will be the maximum allowed without triggering a referendum.

If the Green administration strays higher than the 3.5 per cent increase being proposed it will trigger a city-wide poll, with the council shouldering the costs, the Government said yesterday (December 8).

Ministers want to punish councils that spurn their offer of cash to keep bills frozen, and unveiled proposals forcing a referendum for any rise beyond 3.5 per cent.

Yesterday there was confusion as government officials initially suggested a poll would be needed in Brighton and Hove, but later changed their minds when it emerged that the planned rise is right on the threshold allowed.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: “Councils have a moral obligation to help hard-working families and pensioners with the cost of living. If they want to hike taxes on their local residents above 3.5 per cent they’ll now need to get a direct democratic mandate to do it.”

Ministers have expressed their frustration at Brighton and Hove’s plans, with Prime Minister David Cameron branding the budget “a huge mistake”.

The government has set out the main grants that will be given to councils in 2012/13, confirming the figures first set out a year ago.

Over the course of this Parliament, local authorities are facing a 28 per cent budgets cut.

Brighton and Hove is to be joined by at least three Labour councils in the North East in setting a 3.5% council tax rise.

Labour-run Darlington, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees are all looking at rejecting the government’s proposals.

Brighton and Hove council leader Bill Randall said: “Taking the freeze would mean more cuts to public services.

"The Government has today announced that any proposed rise of above 3.5% should be tested by a public referendum. They must believe that a rise of 3.5% is acceptable in the current circumstances.

“As more councils begin work on their budgets, we expect to see more following our lead in trying to protect services.”

How to take part

There are a number of ways to have your say in The Argus referendum.

Here is the question:

What is more important to you - to keep council tax as low as possible or to minimise the cuts on public services?

The Argus referendum lets you have your say on Brighton and Hove City Council's proposals to increase council tax by 3.5%.

If council tax was frozen the authority would benefit from Government funding equivalent to a 2.5% increase but the Greens say it would lead to higher council tax increases in future.

The Government has not yet said at what level it will cap council tax increases.

This means the council could potentially be allowed to increase council tax to 5% or maybe beyond.

In light of this, would you prefer:

a) no council tax increase?

b) a 3.5% rise?

c) a 5% rise?

You can fill in the coupon inside today's Argus and send in your response to: Send your reply to James Wallin, Argus House, Crowhurst Road, Hollingbury, Brighton, BN1 8AR.

Text votes can be accepted by sending a text with the word SUPIC then your answer to 80360.

You can also join the debate on twitter by using the hashtag #bhref.

And join in with the poll above.

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