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
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.'