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CAPPING BACKLASH PREDICTED

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By Kerry Lorimer, finance editor ...
By Kerry Lorimer, finance editor

Ministers are bracing themselves for a furious backlash from the councils told their budgets will be capped in response to high council tax rises.

Local government minister Nick Raynsford was expected to name four unitary councils - Herefordshire Council, Nottingham City Council, Telford & Wrekin Council and Torbay Council - and two districts, Fenland DC and Shepway DC, among the authorities to be capped.

Three police authorities and five fire authorities were also expected to be on the hitlist.

Sarah Wood, director of economic and environmental regeneration at the Local Government Association, said most of the councils had indicated they would appeal against the decision within the next three weeks.

'They won't lie down and let [the ODPM] tickle their tummies,' she said.

A decision to cap 'excellent' Telford & Wrekin, whose chief executive Michael Frater was seconded by the ODPM to help struggling Walsall MBC, would be 'unfortunate', said Ms Wood.

'There are a couple of surprises, a couple of 'why us?'. Telford & Wrekin are a bit 'why us?' They've done their best and are a good, robust authority,' she said.

Any capping of Telford & Wrekin would be particularly contentious given the government's one-time commitment not to cap top-performing councils.

Mr Frater said the council would use an appeal against a capping decision to argue for recognition of the population growth that is at the root of Telford & Wrekin's funding difficulties.

'We have an extremely strong case against being capped,' he said.

Nottingham, a 'fair' Labour council, is not one of the usual suspects for capping threats.

A Nottingham spokesman said they would be 'surprised and disappointed' if they were capped.

Nottingham's notional increase is 9.6%, 13th highest on the unitary league table, while last year's increase was 6.5%.

'If we were capped we would appeal, and wouldn't rule out judicial review,' he said.

But councils choosing t o go down the judicial review route stand little chance of success, according to one senior local government source.

'As long as ODPM officials followed the procedures properly, an authority's ability to challenge the decision is pretty limited,' he said.

Kerry.lorimer@emap.com

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