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ELECTIONS 2004: TORY COUNCILS 'DELIVER BETTER SERVICES AND LOWER TAXES'

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Michael Howard has launched the Conservatives' English local elections campaign in Birmingham with the message that...
Michael Howard has launched the Conservatives' English local elections campaign in Birmingham with the message that Conservative councils keep taxes low and deliver better services.

He outlined the Conservative Party's agenda for the June elections, and the key 'principles of local government'. He also highlighted the failure of Labour and Liberal Democrat councils to live up to those values.

Mr Howard said: 'Local government should be independent and accountable. Local government should give offer value for money. So we have to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy that pushes up costs. Local government should promote opportunity for all and show compassion for those who need our help. But it should also step back when people need to take control for themselves. Above all local government should live up to its name. It should be genuinely local. It should have the ability to adapt to what local people want, so we need to set it free from the shackles of the state. These are the principles that guide our approach.

'Under Labour, the tentacles of Whitehall have begun to strangle local councils. Today in Britain, councils face greater burdens, more regulations and higher charges all because the Labour Government wants to be in control. Councils have less control over the money they spend, reducing their ability to take their own decisions. 12% of all local government funding is now ring-fenced by Whitehall - up from less than 5% in 1997.'

Highlighting Labour's local government failure, Michael Howard continued: 'Labour has piled on regulation after regulation, burden after burden - but they haven't given local councils the funding to do the job. Instead, the bill has fallen on the taxpayer. Since 1997 council tax has soared by 60 per cent in cash terms. Every year the average council tax increase has been almost triple what it was when we were in power. This year alone, council tax will rise by 6% in England - three times the forecast rate of inflation.'

The local ele ctions manifesto is available here.

Read Michael Howard's full speech

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