Lib Dems to fight poll on council tax

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Sir Menzies Campbell, the party leader, launched his local election campaign by reinforcing the party's promise to scrap council tax and replace it with a local income tax.

The Conservatives claim a local income tax would mean big increases for average families. But Andrew Stunnell, the Liberal Democrat local government spokesman, insisted that pensioners faced a "huge increase" under Labour.

The Liberal Democrats will be campaigning on the slogan of a "safer, fairer and greener" Britain to defend councils in 175 areas, focusing on increasing police numbers, and boosting green initiatives such as recycling and the production of low-emissions energy.

Sir Menzies made it clear that his party would stand by its pledge to replace the council tax, despite the fiasco of the party's general election campaign launch when the former leader Charles Kennedy could not remember detailed figures about the policy.

Sir Menzies said yesterday: "Nothing is going to deflect us from the principle that local taxation should be like local taxation. It should be based on the ability to pay. That principle seems to me to be absolutely essential if we are going to provide protection for the poorest in our society, particularly pensioners."

Mr Stunnell said: "The council tax now exceeds £1,200 on average for band D; that is up 80 per cent since 1997. To compound that, the Chancellor's pre-election pensioners' bribe, or rebate on council tax of £200, has been abandoned.

"That means pensioners who are above the council tax benefit level are going to face an increase in their council tax not of the 4.5 per cent which is the national rise, but of 25 per cent.

He added: "Pensioners in that poverty gap face a huge increase. That is Labour's gift to pensioners."

But the Conservatives said that the local income tax proposals would cost a "typical working family" £735 a year more than the council tax.