Forest Heath's tax shocker

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorHOUSEHOLDERS in the West Suffolk district of Forest Heath have suffered the 33rd highest Band D council tax increase out of a total of 408 British local authorities since Labour came to power, according to figures published today by Conservative Central Office.

HOUSEHOLDERS in the west Suffolk district of Forest Heath have suffered one of the highest council tax rises in East Anglia since Labour came to power, according to figures published today by Conservative Central Office.

The combined district, county and police tax rises for Band D householders since 1997 in Forest Health was £2,145, compared with the English national average in shire districts of £1,716.

Forest Heath's tax rise - the 33rd highest out of 408 local authorities - is six times the lowest national increase in the London borough of Wandsworth.

All tax rises in Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk soared above the national average in the same period, mainly because of the massive hike in county council taxes last year which were six times the rate of inflation.

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Taxes in metropolitan boroughs - the big cities such as Manchester and Birmingham - rose on average by just £1,039, in London boroughs the cumulative total was £1,548, in unitary councils - such as Southend, Luton and Peterborough - the average rise was £1,600. In Scotland it was up on average by £1,936, and in Wales the figure was £1,430.

Other top rises were levied on taxpayers in Uttlesford, Braintree, Colchester, Chelmsford, Tendring and Ipswich, putting them in the top 100 out of a Great Britain total of 408 local authorities.

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Caroline Spelman, Tory spokesman for local and devolved government affairs, said the figures produced by the party's research department, showed that Labour had turned council tax "into the ultimate stealth tax."

She said tax rises had been "engineered" by Chancellor Gordon Brown to rise by three times the rate of inflation every year, but with local councillors taking the blame when bills hit the doorstep.

"I doubt any household believes that its local public services have improved by the same amount that their local tax bills have soared," said Mrs Spelman.

Norfolk councils have faced some of the highest increases. Broadland is sixth in the table with a rise of £2,274 and South Norfolk 11th at £2,242.

Other top increases include Harlow (£2,191, 16th) Maldon (£2,176, 22nd), North Norfolk (£2,176, 23rd) Norwich (£2,175, 25th), Great Yarmouth (£2,172, 26th), Epping Forest (£2,135, 38th), Uttlesford (£2,117), Braintree (£2,092), Breckland (£2,073, 59th) Colchester (£2,069, 62nd) Chelmsford (£2,068, 64th), Tendring £2,034 (83rd) and Ipswich (£2,028, 88th).

St Edmundsbury is 109th at £1,994, Babergh 142nd £1,941, Suffolk Coastal 155th £1,919, Mid Suffolk 160th £1,914, and Waveney 167th £1,902.

Top three increases nationally were the London borough of Kingston-on-Thames £2,413, Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire £2,319 and West Berkshire unitary authority £2,316.

Local government minister Nick Raynsford said the Government was working to keep council tax rises in check. He said that the biggest increases had been in Conservative-run authorities.

"Government work on reducing council tax resulted last year in seeing tax increases reduce by half. We expect further reductions next year,' he said.

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