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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 20:49 GMT
'No surprises' over council tax rise
By John Andrew
Local government correspondent

With council tax in England set to increase, on average, by more than double the rate of inflation, the BBC News website looks at the factors that led to the rise.

Council tax form
Pensioners may protest again against rises

The news that council tax is set to rise by more than 4% this year is no real surprise, however painful it may be for those already struggling to pay their bills.

It was entirely predictable when the government announced back in December that it expected rises no higher than 5%.

It said at the time it would not hesitate to cap those authorities who strayed into the danger zone.

Getting capped is painful and expensive.

Even to arrive at these above-inflation rises, many [authorities] have had to make cuts

Councils have to print and send out fresh bills at huge cost, often for only a few pounds off council tax bills.

If you look closely at the survey in Monday's Times, you can see how many councils have gone right to the wire with rises of between 4.5 and 4.9%.

It is also clear that even to arrive at these above-inflation rises many have had to make cuts. These include shedding jobs or even reducing some social services.

In Lancashire, they have chosen to save money by closing nine libraries and withdrawing the subsidy for their meals-on-wheels service.

Elections influence

Though the government gave an above-inflation rise in grant to local government as a whole, many individual authorities ended up with as little as 2%. This when costs, including those in areas like construction and road maintenance, are rising well above inflation.

In London, where all the seats in the capital's 32 boroughs are up for grabs in May, some of the rises look astonishingly low

And as well as capping, the influence of council elections can also be seen in these figures.

In London, where all the seats in the capital's 32 boroughs are up for grabs in May, some of the rises look astonishingly low.

They range from nothing at all in Hackney to 2.5% in Lewisham.

The figures are bumped up by Ken Livingstone's mayoral precept of 13%, which includes a payment towards the 2012 Olympic Games.

The figures published today do not tell the full story.

We will not get that until every council, police and fire authority has set its budget.

But all the indications are that we are in for a repeat of last year, when a combination of extra grant and the threat of capping kept rises down to some of the lowest we have seen since council tax was introduced 13 years ago.

'Protests promised'

It is pensioners who will be among the hardest hit by the rises.

For a start, the 200 special payment which the chancellor gave to pensioner households last year turned out to be a one off.

We are told there are no plans to repeat it this year.

The record rise of 13% three years ago radicalised many pensioners and, last year, saw the jailing of two protesters who withdrew part of their bill.

Groups like Is It Fair are promising more protests this year and it is unlikely the demand for reform or replacement of the tax will go away.

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