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BUDGET TO PUSH UP COUNCIL TAX WARNS DOBSON

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The government plans to push up council tax way beyond inflation in the coming budget, shadow environment secretary...
The government plans to push up council tax way beyond inflation in the coming budget, shadow environment secretary Frank Dobson told the AGM of the Association of County Councils in Eastbourne today.

'The budget on 26 November will push council tax up by more than the rate of inflation. The only question to be settled by Kenneth Clarke is how much more. This April, when inflation was 2.4%, council tax increases averaged 6%. The previous year when inflation was 3.3%, council tax increases averaged 5.2%.

'The government planned for even bigger increases and they are planning for more this year. Last year William Waldegrave admitted the government was planning for council tax increases to average 8%. Councils kept them down to 6%.

'Last year the government admitted they expected total takings for council tax payers to rise by £3.5bn over three years - equal to 2p on the standard rate of income tax. So this year's increase could be even higher than last year. We will have a better idea on budget day.

'It's all part of the government's master plan to reduce government grants to councils, force council tax payers to pay more and get less service in return. In 1995, a senior civil servant let the cat out of the bag when he confirmed 'a view by ministers that the council tax can take more of the strain of paying for local services'. He described it as 'a trend that present ministers want to see' and added 'the downside is that your taxes go up quite sharply'.

'In their white paper on local government issued in October this year, the government tried to play this down but ended up admitting that they do expect council tax to raise 'a slightly higher proportion of money spent locally' and that they envisaged what they called 'a modest increase in the proportion met by the council tax'.

'So now we know. Whether Ken Clarke announces tax cuts in his budget or not, he is certainly planning to force up council tax. The Tories may be giving with one hand. They will certainly be taking away with the other. They will force local people to pay more and get less.

'And it's not just the size of the government grant that counts. How it's shared out is just as important. The present system is a racket intended to help Westminster City Council.

'Let's just take education as one example. If the following counties got the same government grant per pupil as Westminster they wouldn't be facing cuts and problems - they would be able to take on more teachers.

-- Lancashire could recruit 6,000 extra teachers

-- Hampshire could recruit 6,000 extra teachers

-- Kent could recruit 5,600 extra teachers

-- Essex could recruit 5,300 extra teachers

-- Cheshire could recruit 4,500 extra teachers

-- Derbyshire could recruit 4,000 extra teachers

-- Devon could recruit 4,000 extra teachers

-- Leicestershire could recruit 3,900 extra teachers

-- Hertfordshire could recruit 3,400 extra teachers

-- Hereford and Worcester could recruit 2,900 extra teachers.

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