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COUNCIL TAX: JUGGLING BLAME

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Local authorities must make cost-cutting their top priority in the coming ...
Local authorities must make cost-cutting their top priority in the coming

year, local government minister Nick Raynsfordtold BBC Radio Four's Today

programme this morning.

Commenting on the Audit Commission's report on council tax, Mr Raynsford

said there was no direct relationship between council tax increases and the

amount of government grant authorities receive.

Councils had not done enough this year to make savings, he said: 'They must

regard that as the top priority in the coming year because the government

and the public will not put up with large unjustified increases in council

tax.'

Conservative local government spokesman David Currysaid the government was

to blame for council tax increases. 'When people pick up their council tax

bills off the mat this April, they'd better check them for fingerprints

because they've got the government's fingerprints all over them,' he said.

The problem was that council tax 'has now been loaded with public

expenditure to such a degree that it can no longer bear that burden,' he

said.

Audit Commission chairman James Strachantold the programme: 'Both central

and local government must bear some responsibility for the rises that we have seen

this year.' He urged councils to make more savings: 'Some have been very

successful in squeezing more efficiency from their operations, but others

have not tried hard enough and have not made the tough decisions of saying,

if we do this service more, we may have to cut this other one.'

The programme also reported from Weymouth, where council taxes have gone up

by 53 per cent, despite Weymouth and Portland BC recceiving a 12 per cent

grant increase.

Labour councillor Kay Wilcox said the finacial problems arose because: 'We

were no longer able to use any savings that we had, any one-off measures ...

One of the biggest things that has hit us recently is the drop in interest

rates, and at the same time the increased pension costs and pressures like

homelessness.'

While the 12 per cent increase was welcome, she said: 'Unfortunately, over

the ten previous years we only had a 0.4 per cent increase in government

grant, so over the whole of that period we only had an extra £21,000.'

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