Council tax in South-east to be highest 'by up to pounds 150'

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The Independent Online
CONSERVATIVE MPs in London and the South-East will find their constituents paying significantly higher council taxes than the rest of the country, according to a survey by the Local Government Chronicle.

But the harsh capping of council spending that Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, has imposed looks set to produce an average household bill for England of pounds 505 - a rise of only 1.1 per cent, or below inflation, on this year's poll tax.

Within that, however, households will see a wide range of increases and savings. In London, despite the extra grant provided to off-set its higher property values, the average bill is likely to be almost pounds 150 a household above that in some other parts of the country, the figures show.

The LGC claims its figures are the most authoritative so far, based on confidential replies from the treasurers of more than 200 of the 400 local authorities in England. The average band D bill for houses valued between pounds 68,000 and pounds 88,000 will be pounds 550 - more than pounds 50 up on the pounds 494 that Mr Howard's figures implied for standard spending.

But the fact that the average bill should broadly match this year's is good news for Mr Howard.

However, Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, argued that it was still 28 per cent higher than the Government's pre-election promises of an average pounds 400 bill for Band D.

Councils appear to be allowing about 3.5 per cent for non-collection of the tax, twice the level the Government has assumed, and around pounds 2bn of uncollected poll tax could push bills up.

Tony Travers, a local government specialist at the London School of Economics, predicted that the 'jump in local tax bills in the South-east will be regarded by many Conservative backbenchers and their constituents as politically unacceptable'.

Average bills in inner London will be about pounds 626, the survey sugests, and about pounds 567 in outer London while in the North and North-west they will be about pounds 515. East Anglia looks set to enjoy the lowest average of pounds 428, while in the Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside average bills should be around pounds 460. The South-east outside London is expected to average around pounds 532, and the South-west pounds 512.