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COUNCIL TAX: 'MINISTERS MUST FACE UP TO RESPONSIBILITY'

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The findings of the Audit Commission's inquiry into last year's council tax ...
The findings of the Audit Commission's inquiry into last year's council tax

rises* backs the views already expressed by Westminster City Council. The

Audit Commission today confirmed that much of the blame for this year's

council tax increases at the feet of ministers, saying: 'Fundamental flaws in

the current system of funding local government contributed to this year's

record council tax increases.'

Westminster's council tax increased by 28% last year to £570 at band D - a

big percentage but still one of the lowest cash increases and still

resulting in the lowest council tax in the country.

Kit Malthouse, deputy leader of Westminster City Council, said: 'Westminster,

with many other councils, was forced to increase its council tax far more

steeply than we wanted to this year. We outlined why we were put in this

position and the Audit Commission has backed most of our explanations.

'We explained that we were faced with increasing demands on our finances

from central government, while funding changes introduced by central

government meant money from London and the south was being redistributed

north. We said that prescribed levels of schools funding left us with

nothing for our other services and we said that we were asked to fund

national priorities without having the costs covered in our grant. The

government disagreed and blamed us for council tax increases. The Audit

Commission's findings suggest that ministers and the overly complicated

system of funding local government must take their fair share of the blame.

'The Audit Commission also suggests that councils were not subject to enough

'peer pressure' to keep taxes down. I disagree. Internal discipline and

sound business planning do that. No council wants to increase taxes by more

than they have to, as it damages our local credibility. In Westminster we

have a vision for our city which is shaped by local priorities, but guided

by what our resident s can realistically afford, especially as much of our

city is classed as deprived by the government's own measures.

'Ultimately, ministers cannot promise extra money for the public services on

the one hand and take away our ability to deliver that investment with the

other. Local government is elected to address local needs as well as

national priorities. If ministers are to avoid council tax increases, they

must either give us or allow us to raise locally the money to fund both

their, and our requirements.'

* Summary/ National Report

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