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Last Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005, 16:40 GMT
'End wrangling on council funds'
Sylvia Hardy
Council tax reform is being left to Sir Michael Lyons' inquiry
Reforms to council tax must end the annual wrangling over funds for town halls, an inquiry chief believes.

Sir Michael Lyons is looking into the future of the council tax and the role of local government.

His message to the Local Government Association conference is that funding for councils must be made simpler.

He says confusion over the role of central government and local councils means people do not know who is responsible for what.

Sir Michael's inquiry has been running for a year and it is thought his interim report could be published later this week.

Council tax rises - and particularly their impact on pensioners on fixed incomes - have been a hot political issue in recent years.

The government last week said it expected council tax increases next year to be below 5% next year.

It has announced a two-year grant settlement for the first time to try to inject more stability into the process.

Uncertainty fears

Sir Michael was originally asked to examine possible reforms to the way councils are funded.

But his remit was widened in September to include the revaluation of homes for the council tax, with ministers postponing the current revaluation process.

He has also been asked to examine the role of local government and review the government's decentralisation plans.

In his conference speech on Monday, Sir Michael is laying out what reform of the council tax and local government funding generally should achieve.

He says the lack of public understanding about where responsibilities lies leads to confusion and a lack of accountability.

There must be more stability in the process so there are not the current annual negotiations over funds for local councils, debate about the council tax and uncertainty for local authorities trying to plan their finances, he argues.

He wants any new system to help local councils become "place shapers" - organisations that take the lead on the future development of their communities, services and local area.

There needs to be a public debate on the role of councils and a simpler funding system which people can understand, he says.

Sir Michael's final report is due at the end of 2006.

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