Government may act over big rises
COUNCIL tax bills in Suffolk could be capped next year if households face the prospect of another huge increase, the government warned today.Suffolk County Council put its element of the bill up by 18.
By Paul Geater
COUNCIL tax bills in Suffolk could be capped next year if households face the prospect of another huge increase, the government warned today.
Suffolk County Council put its element of the bill up by 18.5 per cent this year – provoking widespread fury.
And there are already indications that another large increase could be on the cards next year.
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However, local government minister Nick Raynsford has warned councils they could be capped next time around if they try for more massive increases.
Even those councils which thought they were too good to be capped could be hit.
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The government had said authorities rated "excellent" by the Audit Commission would not face capping – but Mr Raynsford has warned them that capping cannot be ruled out.
Suffolk County Council was rated "good" by the commission – so it is not immune from the capping threat.
Mr Raynsford told English local authorities – who put up council taxes by an average of 13 per cent in April – that rises were unsustainable.
"Local authorities should be aware that we are prepared to use our targeted capping powers in 2004/05," he said.
Suffolk County Council leader Bryony Rudkin accepted that future increases would have to be less than the 18.5 per cent rise. She said: "We are looking very hard at the budgets of all our departments – and we welcome comments from our voters. We know the government has capping powers and it is our aim to ensure they are not used here."
Opposition leader Jeremy Pembroke wasn't impressed by Mr Raynsford's comments.
Mr Pembroke said: "For him to talk about capping councils is a bit rich when it was his government's decision to take away £14million from Suffolk to give to their councils in the north of England that caused the rise in the first place.
"If the council had got the full grant it was entitled to, bills would have gone up by about 10 per cent. It's the government that is largely responsible for the increase in the first place."
Chancellor Gordon Brown is understood to be making forecasts based on an average council tax rise of 7.3 per cent across the country next year.
Reg Hartles from pressure group Pacts (Protests Against Council Tax in Suffolk) also felt the government should take its share of the blame.
He said: "Part of the problem is you can't really find out who has caused the increase – but by taking £14m away from the county, the government is largely responsible for this rise.
"If the council tax bills do go up by 7.3 per cent it would be better than an 18.5 per cent rise – but we still feel there should be no increase at all next year."