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Row over spiralling council tax

PUBLISHED: 05:10 29 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:13 24 February 2010

A POLITICAL row has broken out at County Hall over whose fault it is that Essex council taxpayers will see a hike of 16.7 per cent imposed next year.

The Labour Group blame the Conservatives – who currently control Essex County Council – but they in turn blame the Labour Government in Westminster.

A POLITICAL row has broken out at County Hall over whose fault it is that Essex council taxpayers will see a hike of 16.7 per cent imposed next year.

The Labour Group blame the Conservatives – who currently control Essex County Council – but they in turn blame the Labour Government in Westminster.

Meanwhile a senior Liberal Democrat, taking a swipe at both the Tories and Labour, has called for the abolition of Council Tax altogether.

The tax level will see an increase of nearly £130 a year for a Band D property, a figure which does not include further increases from district council and the Police Authority.

This new rate of Band D tax – which will rise from £767.99 to £896.40 – was agreed at an Essex County Council Cabinet meeting yesterday.

Speaking after the decision, Paul Sztumpf, leader of the council's Labour Group, said: "This budget is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the people of Essex. The Tories are increasing council tax by nearly 17 per cent. This simply cannot be justified.

"They have received a 3.7 per cent grant increase from the Government to provide services across the county – this increase is above the level of inflation".

Mr Sztumpf added his group accepted there needed to be a substantial increase in council tax to maintain the high standard of service in Essex.

"But 17 per cent is ludicrous. The Tories tactics are transparent: build up Essex County Council financial reserves by raising council tax unnecessarily and blaming the Government for the increases."

But a Tory spokesman said: "Due to the massive underfunding by the Government, there would have to be substantial cuts in services without the 16.7 per cent increase the Conservative administration has agreed.

"Cutting services is something the Cabinet feel the people of Essex would find unacceptable.

"Services are being squeezed, and savings found wherever possible in order to keep the level of increase down to a minimum.

"The Conservatives regard this grant settlement as appalling, because it severely penalises the people of Essex."

However, Liberal Dem finance spokesman Tom Smith-Hughes said: "The Conservaties have failed to justify why they promise low taxes at the election hustings yet impose massive rises in council taxes when in power.

"The low grant given to Essex by the Labour Government has not helped, but is does not explain all the council tax increases."

He added: "It is time for a thorough overhaul of how we fund local government.

"Council tax should be abolished. It is increasingly seen as an unfair tax, as it hits the poorest and those on fixed incomes hardest.

"A local income tax would be a much better way forward."

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