Prescott's council tax promise

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorTHE Government last night promised that next year's pre-General Election council tax increase will be “low, single figure.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

THE Government last night promised that next year's pre-General Election council tax increase will be “low, single figure.”

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott issued warned local authorities he would not tolerate rises which last year saw Suffolk county council hike tax by 18.5% and Essex county council by 16%.

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If there was any repeat, he would not hesitate to intervene and introduce a tough capping regime to ensure they were not following a spend, spend, spend policy.

He said councils had responded “magnificently” this year to his appeal to keep tax rises low. But with both eyes on the next election, he told delegates to the Labour Party conference in Brighton: “Next year, it's even more critical. The rises have to be even lower.”

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He added: “I realise that council tax in its current form is unsustainable. We're going to have a radical reform of council tax.”

Mr Prescott told delegates that it was untrue that the Labour government did not care “passionately” about the countryside.

Hitting out at the supporters of hunting and coursing, the Deputy Prime Minister said the protestors expected in Brighton tomorrow > were nothing more than a “braying mob.”

He said: “It's this Labour government that's investing in rural communities, and that's why we have more MPs in rural areas than all the Tories put together.

“It's this Government that introduced the right to roam. We'll never accept that the countryside is a no-go area. It's taken us 70 years to achieve that right.

“Implemented last week - and through the democratic process.”

Referring to the hunt demonstration in London, he declared: “In that same week, Parliament Square was filled with all those contorted faces - the same bunch who opposed the right to roam now threaten to break the ale.

“Let Parliament speak. Let democracy decide.”

Mr Prescott also unveiled a scheme to provide first time buyers with new homes for about £60,000. He said he wanted to put surplus public land to better use.

Some of the land could be set aside for first time buyers to get homes they could not otherwise afford.

“We own the land. We don't sell it off. We keep it in trust and lease it for essential new housing,” said the Deputy Prime Minister.

Under the scheme, first time buyers would meet the cost of building the house but not the full cost of the land, helping to keep prices down.

The announcement came as Mr Prescott bemoaned the rising cost of building homes for first time buyers, insisting: “"It's been a gravy train for some and it's got to stop. We must get these costs down.”

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