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The turn of the financial year is always a wonderfully nostalgic period for me. It means the first seeds going into...
The turn of the financial year is always a wonderfully nostalgic period for me. It means the first seeds going into the vegetable garden, primroses in the hedgerow - and the gentle thud of council tax bills landing on the doormat.

I have one word of advice for local government minister Nick Raynsford when it comes to council tax bills - don't. Do not keep going on about scrutinising excessive increases. Do not threaten summary, but unspecified, retribution for unreasonable tax hikes. Do not wave the big stick about future use of capping powers.

Governments do not win arguments with councils about tax increases - they have no answer to the threat to wave the bloody stump of amputated services. If the tax has to rise it is because the government is not providing enough money. If the services are cut it is because the government is not providing enough money.

Of course after Mr Raynsford's Comic-Relief theatrics about the wonderfully modernised fair and transparent funding formula and the generosity of the local government settlement it is inconvenient to see the average increase in council tax in England hit 12.9% and the average Band D levy top £1,100.

But the idea that these numbers dropped from a cloudless sky onto the innocent head of an unwitting government is plain daft. The government imposed the additional national insurance contributions; it decided the public sector pay awards; it decreed the passporting of education funding to schools and the increased contribution to teacher and council pension funds. It also set up the Greater London Authority with tax raising powers.

So the sensible thing for local government ministers to do, as the clocks go forward and the new Parliamentary timetable means MPs get home in the daylight, is to keep their heads down and to stop huffing and puffing with wholly implausible threats.

They do have one thing on their side - most local punters, especially in two-tier areas, have not got the faintest idea about who levies council tax in the f irst place.

I am not sure how many people read the increasingly detailed brochures councils send out with the bills any more than they scrutinise the bits of advertising that float out of the envelope which brings the credit card bill. In North Yorkshire CC, like in all the shire counties, the council tax bills are a product of the demands of the county council, district council, parish council and police authority - and they have produced a whopping 76% increase.

The hapless messenger is, of course, the district council. But included within the county council element are the precepts from the fire authority, the Magistrates Courts Committee, the North East Sea Fisheries Committee and the Environment Agency for flood defence. No amount of pie charts can make that little lot simple.

Next year could well be the same, especially if the state of public finances dictates a tougher settlement. But what

I am really looking forward to is the change to council house banding foreshadowed in the Local Government Bill. If there is a new bottom band, A- perhaps, how will councils with housing concentrated at the lower end of values maintain their funding base? Will resource equalisation become more central to funding and will property price inflation catapult houses into higher bands where the same services simply cost more?

Come on Nick, make my day.

David Curry

Conservative MP for Skipton & Ripon

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