Higher council tax bills warning
By Graham DinesPolitical EditorHOUSEHOLDERS have been warned they are facing the prospect of increased council tax rises and a cut in services if the Government cracks down on spending.
By Graham Dines
HOUSEHOLDERS have been warned they are facing the prospect of increased council tax rises and a cut in services if the Government cracks down on spending.
Ministers have pledged to cap any council that threatens to step out of line, imposing a limit on any rise in spending next year.
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But there is unlikely to be a repeat of this year's one-off grant to councils, which enabled high-spending authorities like Essex and Suffolk County Councils to levy increases below 3%.
Jeremy Pembroke, leader of the new Conservative administration on Suffolk County Council, believed it would not get the generous settlement for 2006-7 that was handed out this year to authorities as a “pre-General Election bribe”.
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He added: “Councils were given an extra payment by the Chancellor - it was £3million for Suffolk - but all that way was a Government attempt to buy off voters. There will be no such cash this year.
“I am determined that Suffolk will do everything it can to keep the council tax rise as low as possible. The council is mindful that the people of this county voted for low tax last May.
“However, Suffolk is a shire county and I realise the Government won't do us any favours. That's why we are looking at all aspects of council spending, including increased co-operation with district authorities to avoid duplication.”
Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council and a Conservative frontbench spokesman on local government in the House of Lords, said: “I do not think the Government has any time for councils and it is determined to cut down on spending.
“Essex, like other councils, is looking at how it spends its money and is implementing efficiency savings of 2%. However, the prospect for council tax next year is bleak - don't expect any favours from Whitehall.”
Tim Passmore, who serves on the ruling executive on Mid Suffolk District Council, one of England's smallest and most rural local authorities, said it feared the outcome of this year's settlement.
Although the council - which has restructured its services, leading to redundancies - received an above-inflation 4.5% increase in its funding for the current financial year, Mr Passmore warned. “We are expected to meet more and more Government targets without the necessary extra cash.
“Mid Suffolk has been through painful times. There has been an effect on staff morale and motivation through the cut in the Government's cash allocation to the authority.”
Graham Butland, leader of Braintree District Council, described this year's settlement as “quite reasonable,” but warned the future did not look good.
“As there will not be much money coming into local government, we are already looking at how we will be able to make significant savings so council tax remains within allowable limits,” he added.
“We want to be a low-tax council. Our increase was 3.9% this year and we would like to do less, but we will need to do a lot of work in order to achieve that.”
Reg Hartles, chairman of campaign group Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said householders had not forgotten the 18.5% rise in the Suffolk County Council share of council tax of three years ago.
“The Government must surely remember the uproar all over the country from swingeing increases,” he added.
“We will be writing to the county council seeking an assurance that it will be keeping spending under control and that any increase in tax will be an absolute minimum.”
Rises in council tax could be even steeper in following years because of the revaluation of properties, which could propel homes into higher tax bands after improvements such as extensions and extra bedrooms and bathrooms have been taken into account.
David Ruffley, Bury St Edmunds MP, warned that bills would rise by £250 because of the “rigged council tax” revaluation.
He added: “I fear that families who have saved and invested in their home will face soaring bills without any improvements in their local services.”