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LABOUR LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR 1996 LOCAL ELECTIONS

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Speaking at the launch of Labour's campaign for the 1996 local council elections, shadow environment secretary Fran...
Speaking at the launch of Labour's campaign for the 1996 local council elections, shadow environment secretary Frank Dobson said:

'Today marks the national launch of Labour's local election campaign.

'This time last year I explained that Labour was going into the local elections with more councillors than ever before. We went on to gain another 1,800 seats. The Tories lost over 2,000.

'Last year I explained that we already controlled more councils than ever before. We went on to gain control of a further 39 councils.

'Today, Labour has 12,150 councillors and controls 198 councils. Labour has more councillors than the Tories and Liberal Democrats combined. Labour controls three times as many councils as the Tories and Liberal Democrats combined.

'Last year, Labour gained more seats in the South of England than the Liberals gained in the whole of England and Wales. In Essex, Labour gained 102 seats, the Liberals gained 13. In Kent, Labour gained 147 seats - the Liberals only 11.

'Gains on this scale cannot be repeated this year. That's because last year over 12,000 council seats were up for election. This year only 3,018 are up for election - a quarter of last year's total.

'Even under the present inept leadership, the Tories can't possibly lose another 2,000 seats this year. That's because they've only got 1,218 seats to lose.

'So we will have to fight hard to gain what seats we can. Our principal weapon in this fight will be people's belief that this government are neither competent nor trustworthy. People no longer believe what they say. And people are right.

'The Tories will seek to blame Labour for the council tax increases but local people know that the government must shoulder most of the blame.

'William Waldegrave had to admit that the treasury were planning for council tax increases averaging 8%. They also expected councils to cut services for local people and charge more for services like school meals and meals on wheels. So the Tories are forcing people to pay more and get less. But it won't end there. The Tories intend people to go on paying more and getting less.

'According to the government's own figures, they expect council tax payers to cough up an extra £3.5n over the next three years - equal to almost 2p on the standard rate of income tax.

'And of course the government are continuing to rig the grant system to look after the interests of their friends running the scandal-ridden Westminster City Council.

'They continue to designate Westminster as the 4th most deprived area in England and pour in extra money to help Westminster keep down their council tax.

'If every council in England received the same government help per head as Westminster, not fewer than 336 councils (94%) would not have to levy any council tax at all - they would instead be able to pay out a refund to every council tax payer, ranging from £1,417 in Forest Heath to £57 in Enfield.

'10 councils, including Southampton, Portsmouth, Stoke on Trent, Tamworth, Cherwell, Rushmoor, Newcastle under Lyme, Redditch and Nuneaton could pay out rebates of over £900.

'The unfairness of the grant to Westminster is confirmed by figures published by the Audit Commission which show that council tax payers in Westminster are required to contribute just 4% towards the cost of local services. The government funds the remaining 96%.

'Contrast this with Peterborough where local people have to fund 25% of their council's costs or Milton Keynes where the figure is 34%. Or Basildon where it's 42% or Southampton 20%, Brighton and Hove 22%, Wyre Forest 36% or Trafford where local people have to fund 24%.

'The Tory MPs for these areas all voted for this grant system which looks after Westminster but does down their own electors. No wonder people don't trust the Tories.

'But all over the country, more and more people are coming to trust Labour. The councils where Labour took control last year have tried to provide better services and better value for money. They have kept the promises they made to local people. What a contrast with all those election promises that the Tory government have broken.

'All over the country, Labour councils are trying to do a good job - to keep on improving. This was confirmed bythe indicators of performance recently published by the Audit Commission.

'It was also confirmed by the department of the environment, who confirmed that 14 out of the 16 best housing departments were Labour controlled.

'Charter Marks were awarded in November to 47 award winning Labour-controlled authorities.

'All over the country Labour councils are leading the way - promoting public/private partnerships that work.

'All over the country we will be fighting on the record of Labour councils, providing local services, promoting economic regeneration, protecting the environment, deterring and combating crime, all in partnership with local people, local businesses, local voluntary organisations.

'We will contrast this with the record of the present Tory government. They have been rumbled. Nobody trusts them any more.

'People look at the government and they don't like what they see. More and more, the government are coming to resemble they names of the cows in Cold Comfort Farm. Graceless, Pointless, Feckless and Aimless.'

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