Tory councillors have been accused of “populism” after calling for council tax to be frozen.

Bury’s Conservative group, supported by the council’s two Liberal Democrat councillors, put forward a motion at last Wednesday’s full council meeting to urge the Labour-run administration to freeze council tax.

However, Labour councillors defended last year’s rise and voted down the motion, but would not be drawn on their decision, which will be announced at a special budget meeting on February 19.

Council tax rose by 3.7 per cent last year, and the ruling Labour group was accused of delivering an “insult” to residents after approving the inflation- busting rise.

The council initially said council tax would increase by 3.5 per cent, but this did not include police and fire precepts.

Police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd has already announced his intention to add £5 to the average Band D council tax bill in the next financial year, which is part of the police precept.

Mr Lloyd says the increase will generate £3.3 million, but that this will go towards neighbour-hood policing.

Tory leader Cllr Iain Gartside said a freeze could be achieved with the help of a grant which is being offered by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is equivalent to a one per cent tax increase, in place of a tax rise.

He said: “We feel it is a matter of principle that when there is an opportunity to keep council tax low it must be pursued.

“Bury Council hiked it by 3.7 per cent last year when they had the opportunity to freeze it. Under years of Labour government there was no option to freeze council tax. People who work hard have been made poorer by Labour’s recession in 2008. Council tax should be cut for hardworking people so they have more money in their pocket.”

Labour group deputy leader Cllr John Smith said: “I find it shocking that the Conservatives have submitted this petition and talk about the national government rather than what is happening in Bury.

“Last year we took no pleasure in raising council tax, but we had little or no choice.

“In the circumstances at that time it was the responsible thing to do, and the right thing to do. We had a duty to be prudent and look into the long term, and that is what we did.”