Milton Keynes tops the bill for shopping

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Welcome to Milton Keynes, the most expensive place to shop in Britain. The home of concrete cows has topped a list of 97 places around the UK in the latest cost of living survey.

The report, published every six months by the Reward Group, the pay consultants, looks at the yearly costs of goods and services as well as the required amount of income.

The yearly bill for a basket of goods and services in Milton Keynes is pounds 10,189 per year compared to the national average of pounds 9,724. It takes over from Manchester which was named most expensive place to shop six months ago.

Reward looks at the price of various items such as cereal, salad cream, kippers, golf club subscriptions, school fees and dry cleaning.

The cheapest place to shop is Billingham in Teeside where shopping sets you back pounds 9,066, followed by St Austell, Barnsley, Morecambe and Preston. A spokeswoman for the Shopping Centre, Milton Keynes, which has 180 shops and regularly attracts half a million visitors a week, said yesterday that she found the report "surprising. I would never expect us to be the most expensive. I think it is quite alarming to be labelled most expensive when most people think it's wonderful value shopping."

The survey is used by firms as a yardstick for wage increases and reveals that shop prices have risen 3.9 per cent over the past 12 months. Most of this rise took place in the first six months (August 1995 to February 1996) with prices only rising by 0.9 per cent in the most recent six months. The rise has been driven mainly by food prices which went up by 5.9 per cent. However family income requirements (the amount of income needed to maintain living standards including housing costs) have fallen by 0.5 per cent in the last six months, mainly due to the drop in mortgage rate from 8.39 per cent in August 1995 to 6.93 per cent in August 1996.

Greater London is still the place where the family income requirement is highest. At pounds 21,948 a year it is 19 per cent higher than the national average which is pounds 18,451.

The place where you can get by on least money is Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales, where a family can live on pounds 15,527. Barnsley comes in second. The figures also reveal which items have risen in price most in the past ten years. Soap powder has more than doubled, from 90p to pounds 1.97, and bacon has risen from 88p to pounds 1.66. However those who delayed buying a television in 1985 until this year will be relieved to hear that the price has gone down from pounds 262 to pounds 258.

Having calculated the difference between average incomes and average price of bills, the Scots top the quality of life index, followed by the North and Greater London. The South East has the worst quality of life, with the West Midlands and the South West only marginally better.

n The Cost of Living Survey is available from the Reward Group, Reward House, Diamond Way, Stone Business Park, Stone, Staffordshire ST15 0SD price pounds 180.

Britain's biggest and smallest bills

Most expensive places to shop [with yearly total]:

1. Milton Keynes pounds 10,189

2. Croydon pounds 10,187

3. Slough pounds 10,139

4. Beckenham pounds 10,082

5. Manchester pounds 10,070

Cheapest places to shop:

1. Billingham pounds 9,066

2. St Austell pounds 9,188

3. Barnsley pounds 9,234

4. Morecambe pounds 9,241

5. Preston pounds 9,250.

(National average pounds 9,724)