Parties blame each other for council tax bills

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The Independent Online
Householders will have to pay an average 6 to 7 per cent increase on their council tax bills this year, according to a survey published yesterday.

The increased bills sparked an immediate row, with Labour claiming that the increases were a result of cuts in government grant, while the Tories blamed profligate Labour-controlled councils. In Scotland, where local authorities have been hit particularly hard by reduced grants, council workers walked out on strike in protest against sharp increases in council tax levels and reductions in services.

With the vast number of authorities now in Labour or Liberal Democrat control, and the Tories only controlling 14 councils, it is difficult to make the usual political comparisons. However, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy report survey was published the day after Labour-controlled Liverpool City Council set a tax Band D rate of pounds 1,110, the highest in the country. Tory-run Westminster City Council has set a rate of pounds 304 for the same band. There are wide variations in rises across the country, with Labour-controlled Wolverhampton showing the highest rise, with an increase of 20 per cent.

The Cipfa report shows that the bill for an average B and D home goes up to just under pounds 690 in England. In Wales, the rise is slightly higher, with a 7.2 percent increase, making the average bill pounds 494. In Scotland, average tax rises of 13 per cent are expected across the country's 32 councils.

Conservative Party vice-Chairman Eric Pickles told the Today programme yesterday: "What it shows is that Labour is very expensive. They don't collect council taxes and they charge a lot for not receiving terribly good services."

But Frank Dobson, Labour spokesman on the environment said the Government had reduced its grant by pounds 4bn over the next three years.

Mr Dobson pointed to a statement in the House by David Curry, the local government minister, who said last December that "the Goverment has reduced income tax, council taxes will rise somewhat ..." He said: "The thing we have to recognise about these council tax increases is that they are exactly the ones the Government planned and announced on Budget Day."

Liberal Democrats, who control four times as many councils as the Tories, say the in- creases come as no surprise.

In Scotland, meanwhile, 20,000 council workers staged a one-day walkout as councils met to fix budgets for next year. The strike by members of the Unison union affected councils in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Midlothian. The union claims 10,000 jobs are threatened by council cutbacks which will involve drastic cuts in services.