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COUNCIL TAX RISE CLAIMS REJECTED IN CHESHIRE SHAKE-UP

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Claims that council tax bills would rise if three unitary councils are set up in Cheshire 'bear no relation to past...
Claims that council tax bills would rise if three unitary councils are set up in Cheshire 'bear no relation to past experience', according to the chief executives of the county's six district councils.

In a move designed to reassure local people in the face of potentially misleading claims from county councillors, the chief executives stressed that when Warrington and Halton broke away from county council control in 1997, their council tax levels immediately fell. Contrary to strident claims made by opponents at the time, taxes in the two councils have stayed down.

Speaking on behalf of the six districts, Anne Bingham-Holmes, chief executive of Vale Royal BC, said: 'The Boundary Committee has made it absolutely clear that they have no view on the unofficial figures currently being bandied about concerning the cost of transferring from a county/district structure to three modern councils, because they have not been checked by the Audit Commission.

'The Boundary Committee's independent research showed that local people rank the cost of service as only the fourth most important issue (14%), behind 'responding to local people's wishes' (23%), 'quality of service' (22%) and 'being accountable to local people' (16%).

'Both the Boundary Committee and the ODPM have recognised that it is difficult to quantify any potential costs or savings relating to newly created authorities.'

The Boundary Committee is only referring to the costs of 'being in business' - such as money spent on elections and councillors and drawing up plans to meet government requirements. These costs were compiled independently based on audited figures provided by individual councils. Unsurprisingly, these costs, ranged from £10.5m for a single authority to £16.8m for three authorities. The current comparative cost for the existing two-tier structure is £30m.

Ms Bingham-Holmes explained: 'Obviously the cost of employing one chief executive for a single authority will be cheaper t han three chief executives for three councils. However, these figures do not tell the whole story, and the Boundary Committee has agreed that they could have recognised a more comprehensive range of costs.

'The costs for a single council for Cheshire do not include, for example, councillors' costs and expenses for travelling long distances to meetings. Nor do they include the potentially considerable administration costs for 12 area committees which the county council has proposed.'

Peter Kent , leader of Crewe and Nantwich BC, said: 'It is futile to predict council tax levels for the new unitary authorities at this stage, if we are to avoid potentially misleading or inaccurate financial assumptions about services currently administered at county level.

'None of these dire predictions of tax increases happened when Warrington and Halton were created.

'We are absolutely confident that similar benefits are open to us, if three modern all-purpose councils replace the old county structure.'

NOTES

The six districts have proposed three 'modern Cheshire councils':

East Cheshire Council (bringing together Congleton BC with Macclesfield BC)

Mid Cheshire Council (Crewe & Nantwich BC with Vale Royal BC)

Chester and West Cheshire Council (Chester City Council with Ellesmere Port & Neston BC)

The Boundary Committeeannounced three options on 1 December 2003 for unitary authorities in Cheshire. These were:

One council for the whole of Cheshire with a population of 673,800

Two councils, East and West Cheshire, with populations of 318,800 and 355,000

Three councils, East, Mid and West Cheshire, with populations of 240,800, 233,000 and 199,900

A period of public consultation on the three options will continue until 23 February 2004. Local people and organisations are being encouraged to send their views to the Boundary Committee. These responses will help inform the Boundary Committee's recommen dations to the ODPM, which will be submitted by 25 May 2004.

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