Council tax bills to rise by three times inflation

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Householders were warned yesterday that council tax bills in England will rise by an average 6.2 per cent in the coming year, nearly three times the rate of inflation.

Householders were warned yesterday that council tax bills in England will rise by an average 6.2 per cent in the coming year, nearly three times the rate of inflation.

The average council tax for a band D home will be £847. In shire areas the average will be £843, in London £778 and in the metropolitan areas £919.

Archie Norman, shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, blamed the rises on the Government for reducing support to councils. "In three years, the average band D council tax has risen by £150," he said. "This is proof that Labour tax more and deliver less."

The rises in council tax - which take the average charge for all homes to £697 in 2000-2001 - came as ministers prepared public opinion for heavy Labour losses in the local elections next month.

A leaked letter from Hilary Armstrong, the Local Government minister, was seen as evidence of panic in Labour ranks at the expected backlash from "heartlands" supporters. It said the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, and the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, will be sent to drum up support in key towns. Labour spin-doctors have been playing up the scale of the likely losses in town halls across the country in an attempt to dampen the shock of the defeat, which could see several councils change hands.

Party sources said Labour could lose 700 seats in the local elections, and the Tories are almost certain to take control of "hung" councils in Solihull, Cheltenham, Cherwell, Eastbourne and Southend-on-Sea.

Labour could lose control of Bradford, Oldham, Trafford and Walsall among the Metropolitan areas, and Basildon, Worcester and Crewe in the shires.

Liberal Democrats are expected to do well in their target areas, including Kirklees in West Yorkshire, but they could lose Stockport, Herefordshire and Torbay to no overall control, if the Tories make gains.

Labour strategists fear a low turn-out by Labour supporters and a swing back to the Conservatives of seats won by Labour in 1996 - 12 months before John Major's government was thrown out of office. "We want to get turn-out up in places like Rotherham and Merseyside but, short of driving people out of their homes with a stick, it's going to be difficult," said a party spokesman.

Labour leaders made clear that they do not believe a Tory revival in the local elections will point to a general election defeat for Labour.

The party spokesman said: "We had a fantastic result four years ago but there is a major disparity between what happens locally and what happens nationally. There has been political turbulence but the idea that if we lose 400 seats we will lose the general election is cobblers. We are saying the onus is on the Tories to fight back."

The local elections will be held in all 36 metropolitan districts, 27 of the 46 unitary authorities and 89 of the 238 shire districts. Labour will be defending a total of 1,713 seats out of a total 3,337, with the Liberal Democrats on 740 and the Tories on 711.

* TBWA, the advertising agency with the accounts for the Sony PlayStation, Pretty Polly, and NatWest bank has won the contract to run Labour's general election advertising campaign. Its past successes include the PlayStation cyber-pixie "Fi-Fi".