Anxious wait for Government figures

THIS is the first crucial week in the battle for next year's council tax bills.The government is expected to tell local councils this week how much it is going to give them towards providing local services.

THIS is the first crucial week in the battle for next year's council tax bills.

The government is expected to tell local councils this week how much it is going to give them towards providing local services.

But local authorities do not expect to know immediately how much their council tax bills are likely to be next year.

That is because they need to study the details of the figures before they can draw up a specific budget – and these details can mask the true effect of the settlement.

When council tax grants were announced last year, Suffolk County Council was told it had a rise of six per cent which seemed generous.

It was only when the detail was studied that officials realised the government was clawing back £14 million that it had been expecting – and that meant council tax bills were 18 per cent rather than 10 per cent.

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It is not certain, either, that councils will be told their individual settlements this week – the government may just announce a universal settlement across the country and tell individual local authorities later this month or at the beginning of December.

The announcement is expected to come from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, either tomorrow or Wednesday.

Rising anger among groups across the country like PACTS (Protest Against Council Taxes in Suffolk) has put the government on the defensive.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils across the country, has warned that an £800 million gap has opened up which will either have to be met from central government grants or council tax payers.

This is because Whitehall has been telling local authorities to take on more and more responsibilities without properly funding the new services.

The government, aware of the political damage it is suffering as a result of the growing protests, is expected to announce a settlement which will enable councils to increase bills by considerably less than last year although still substantially above the rate of inflation.

One senior council officer, who asked not to be named, told The Evening Star: "My betting – and that of many of my colleagues – is that when the settlement is finally dissected at the end of this year or early next we will find we need a council tax rise of between nine and 9.9999 per cent."

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