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Last Updated: Monday, 5 January, 2004, 17:18 GMT
Tax raises tough choices
Council tax protestors

Council tax increases for Devon have been discussed by the county council.

The meeting of the authority's executive was the first in a long round of budget discussions, with the final council tax figure decided in mid-February.

Last year's unprecedented rise of 17.9% was one of the highest in England and led to widespread protests by pensioners.

A report tells councillors the draft spending plan is 633m - some 17m more than the authority's budget for last year.

Service cuts

But members have to decide whether that is affordable and set targets for all the different directorates, such as social services, education and highways. A lower budget could mean service cuts and job losses.

Councillors are confident they can keep the percentage increase to single figures, but leader Brian Greenslade has warned that it will be above inflation.

Council tax in its current format should be abolished
David John Every, Plymouth

Mr Greenslade said: "We'll have to spend a lot of time finding a sensible compromise between protecting essential services and a council tax level which recognises the low income levels in our county."

BBC South West political editor Chris Rogers said: "One decision has already been made. Education, the biggest amount on the annual bill, will get all the money the government says it should.

"Life should also be eased slightly by an extra 4.3m that Gordon Brown doled out to Devon last month specifically to keep down next year's tax.

"But councillors say it still means Devon is getting the third lowest percentage grant increase of any shire county, and if Devon's council tax increases are to be kept down to single figures, then cuts in jobs and services may still be necessary."

Pensioners who have been at the forefront of protests against last year's rise say people's ability to pay must be borne in mind.

The Devon Pensioners Action Forum says it plans to contest every seat at the next poll in 2005.

Council's spending tightrope
05 Jan 04  |  Devon
4.3m given to council
12 Dec 03  |  Devon
Pensioner tax plan scrapped
18 Nov 03  |  Kent
South West: Spend a penny?
24 Oct 03  |  Politics Show

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