Council tax up - Essex blames Prescott
ESSEX residents are facing huge "unaffordable" increases to their council tax leaving households across the county with bills of more than £1,000.The tax hike, nearly 17% above last year's amount, has been attacked as "a broken promise" and demands made for it to be scrapped and replaced with an alternative taxation.
ESSEX residents are facing huge "unaffordable" increases to their council tax leaving households across the county with bills of more than £1,000.
The tax hike, nearly 17% above last year's amount, has been attacked as "a broken promise" and demands made for it to be scrapped and replaced with an alternative taxation.
The total amount payable from April 1, includes portions for the county council, police authority, fire and local authority costs.
Homeowners living in Band D properties will have to pay more than £1,100 a year.
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Lord Hanningfield, Conservative, leader of Essex County Council, said it was a "robust and sensible" budget to put the authority in a position to deal with "the squeeze to come".
He said: "A further £45 million in grant will be lost in the future years. Despite these difficulties, we have not lost site of delivering our priorities in improving the lives of people in this county."
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"We have made savings and controlled growth. To deal with the major loss of grant we have strengthened our reserves. To do anything less would have been to seriously jeopardise the future well-being of this authority and the people we serve."
The council claimed its increase was based on a realistic assessment of pressures facing the county now and in the future.
It promised an increase in its schools budget by more than 8% and attempt to access more money from the national fund to raise school standards.
An additional £9.5 million will go to community care packages and £350,000 will be spent on replacing unreliable traffic lights.
However, the council, which has a Conservative majority, was immediately slammed by opposition groups at county hall for the rise.
Essex county Labour group, which proposed a council tax increase of about 14%, claimed the Tory budget was "unaffordable for the people of Essex".
Leader of the group, councilor Paul Sztumpf said: "The Tories have increased council tax by nearly 17% without justification. Essex Tories promised the electorate tax cuts at the 2001 county council elections – instead of tax cuts they have proved to be a party of tax and spend, and then just blame the Government in a cynical attempt to discredit Labour."
Liberal Democrat county councilors said the Tories had produced a budget which "broke their promise" to keep council tax low.
Leader of the group, councilor Ken Jones, said: "Council tax increases in leaps and bounds, faster than many people on fixed incomes can afford.
"It is time to abolish this unfair tax and replace it with a fair system of local income tax that takes account of an individual's ability to pay."
Band D residents in Colchester borough face a charge of £1,126 for 2003/4, which includes an increase of 12.5% to the borough's section of the total.
Council leader Colin Sykes said taxpayers in Colchester were effectively subsidising other areas of the country because of Government policy.
Tendring District Council's total amount payable will be £1,118.33, a total increase of £147.90 from £970.43 last year for residents in band D. In overall terms, this is an increase to council taxpayers of 15.24%.
A council spokesman said: "The increase Tendring District Council is being asked to ratify is a proposed increase of just 2.5% which is only £2.70 of that increase. The remainder of that extra £147.90 is the total of charges that have to be collected on behalf of the county, the police and the fire service."
Braintree's band D households' bill is £1,133.40 - the district's part of it representing a rise of 5% on last year, which the council claimed had been helped by using about £400,000 from its balances.
A council spokesman said: "We have a juggling act to perform. At the same time we are putting very significant amounts of money into new priorities, especially waste management and recycling and concessionary fares for people who are eligible for subsidised transport."