Council defends region's top tax bill

A DISTRICT council in Suffolk has said it is not to blame for the fact its residents are facing one of the biggest council tax rises in England.Figures released by the Government have shown that Forest Heath householders have been confronted with a 6.

By Graham Dines

A DISTRICT council in Suffolk has said it is not to blame for the fact its residents are facing one of the biggest council tax rises in England.

Figures released by the Government have shown that Forest Heath householders have been confronted with a 6.2% increase in bills, the highest in East Anglia.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister says the Band D tax rate demanded for district services in Forest Heath from April 1 will be £121, an increase of 3.7%, but this goes up on average by £60 when the demands of town and parish councils such as Mildenhall, Brandon, and Newmarket are included.


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Add on the tax precepts of the county council and police authority and Band D residents in Forest Heath will have to pay £1,303, an increase of 4.3%.

However, this year, as well as the figure for benchmark Band D properties which averages 4.5% - just below the maximum ministers said they were prepared to tolerate - Whitehall has issued a second, which calculates the total number of properties in each band from A to H and then averages the tax rise. For Forest Heath, that makes an average council tax per dwelling across all bands of £1,040, or 6.2% over the current financial year.

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A spokesman for Forest Heath, one of the smallest councils in East Anglia, said it should not be blamed for the large increase facing householders.

“Forest Heath District Council worked very hard to limit our rise to 3.7%. Every service has made efficiencies and we are well below the Government's 5% target.

“Unfortunately we have no control over what rises are set by town or parish councils, Suffolk county council or the police authority.”

West Suffolk Tory MP Richard Spring, whose constituency includes Forest Heath, said there were special problems facing the authority.

“Its residents include 20,000 United States armed forces personnel but these are disregarded by central government which means its funding from Whitehall has been adjusted.”

The largest average tax rises in Essex are 5.4% in Uttlesford and 5.2% in Tendring. In Suffolk, Waveney's typical council tax bill is up 5.2% with Mid Suffolk at 5.2%, while South Cambridgeshire residents face an increase of 5.5%.

There are huge variations in council tax across the country. In London, Wandsworth's total Band D tax for householders is just £606 and across the river in Westminster it is £659 - but in Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency, the figure is £1,490.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “Politicians expect taxpayers to accept any tax increases they announce instead of taking some responsibility themselves to keep taxes down by cutting waste.

“Over the last year we've heard about councils wasting money on rebranding exercises, daft arts projects and ridiculous tales of inefficiency. Politicians should sort this out before simply turning to the taxpayer to pick up the bill.”

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