Council leader's grim tax warning

COUNCIL tax in Essex is at “breaking point” and some public service costs will double within just five years, it was warned last night.Household waste disposal costs are set to double in Essex by 2010 and quadruple by 2025, while the county faces a “pensioner crisis” in trying to meet the needs of a swelling elderly population.

COUNCIL tax in Essex is at “breaking point” and some public service costs will double within just five years, it was warned last night.

Household waste disposal costs are set to double in Essex by 2010 and quadruple by 2025, while the county faces a “pensioner crisis” in trying to meet the needs of a swelling elderly population.

This stark warning came was made yesterday by Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council.

The Tory peer called for radical changes to local government funding because, he said, council tax itself could no longer cope with the burden of rising costs and increasing demands placed on finite financial resources.


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Finance officers at the county council are currently forecasting a council tax rise for 2006/2007 of up to five per cent - but that could change depending on the amount of funding the council gets from Government in next year's settlement grant.

And last night the deputy leader of the Labour group on the county council said Lord Hanningfield's warning over council tax was “preparation” for a major tax hike set to be levied on the people of Essex. The Tory group leader was also accused of “whingeing” by the Liberal Democrat county councillor Dr Ian Gale who said: “He's missed the obvious source of funding in all of this - the local income tax, something which the Liberal Democrats have advocated for some time now.

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“The council tax so evidently has flaws but it is rich for people from his party to whinge because they have played the game themselves and the existing system in local government comes from both the Conservatives and the Labour Governments.”

Lord Hanningfield said: “The council tax was simply not designed for the burden of services it is expected to cope with - the Government is trying to buy a pound of service with a penny of funding.

“Council tax has a very limited reach. It currently forms a small part of the tax take, only five per cent of the total taxation burden in Essex, but central Government is piling obligation on local government, while depriving us of funding from other taxes.

“A rise in the Government grant by one per cent, as we expect to see announced today, falls far short of meeting the pressures of inflation on our services.

“Local government has done a tremendous job in making efficiency savings - currently far ahead of central Government - but such savings cannot meet the kind of pressures we face.

“The cost of buying a pint of milk is falling, for instance, but the cost of disposing of the carton is rising.

“Waste is not the only service facing dramatic pressures on cost. Care for elderly people is likely to face growing demand as the number of older people supported by our services increases.

“In the same way that society faces a pension crisis, local government faces what one might call a “pensioner crisis” as we struggle to cope with rising demands and costs.”

Les Double, deputy leader of the Labour group on the county council, said: “Well he would say that wouldn't he.

“It is just sour grapes. In the last eight years the Government has done more to support local Government than the Conservatives did in the previous 18.

“I think Lord Hanningfield is preparing us for a big council tax rise because it is a non-election year.”

Nobody from the Government or the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was available for comment during the weekend.

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