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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Prescott attacked on council tax
A council tax form
An inquiry into council tax reform is due to report in December
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has been accused of trying to pretend council tax rises are nothing to do with the government.

In the Commons, Lib Dem David Heath said ministers were trying to blame the problem on councillors "taking leave of their senses".

Tory William Hague said the failure to repeat a pre-election tax rebate for pensioners would make voters cynical.

But Mr Prescott said the government had helped pensioners in other ways.

Election promise

Council tax bills for Band D in England will rise by an average of 4.5% this year, the government said this week.

The increase means the average council tax per home will be 1,056, up from 1,009 last year.

Ministers have said they plan to use powers to limit council tax rises against only two councils - Medway and York.

But pensioner groups have voiced anger that over-65s are not to receive a repeat of last year's 200 rebate on council tax.

With Mr Prescott standing in for Tony Blair at prime minister's questions, shadow foreign secretary Mr Hague said the rebate had only been given in an election year.

"Is it any wonder why people are so cynical about politics?" asked the former Tory leader.

Pensioner help

Council tax has risen by 84% since 1997. Mr Hague said this year the average pensioner couple would have to pay 254 more.

Mr Prescott said it was the Tory years in government which had made people cynical.

Average council tax rise in England: 4.5%
Average council tax per home: 1,056, up from 1,009 last year
Average Band D bill: 1,268, up 54 from last year

Ministers had always made clear last year's rebate was for one year, he said.

But the government was giving pensioners "very, very considerable" help through things like the winter fuel allowance.

Lib Dem frontbencher Mr Heath said council tax should be scrapped and demanded to know who Mr Prescott thought was to blame for the rises.

"You are saying that thousands of councillors up and down the country in all councils, whether they are Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour, have taken collective leave of their senses year and year to push up the council tax and it's got nothing to do with the government?" he said.

Mr Prescott insisted the government had raised funding for councils by 39% and Labour councils offered the best value.

Sir Michael Lyons is looking at how to reform council tax and will report in December.

But the deputy prime minister said Lib Dem calls for a local income tax would leave many people paying an "awful lot more".


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