The Audit Commission is urging a fresh approach to the way councils charge for some of their services.
Councils in England and Wales raise about six billion pounds a year for services such as provision of carparking, home care, leisure centres and adult education.
Many raise more money through charging than through their council tax income.
But a new report by the commission, The Price is Right?, suggests charging policies have developed randomly, and that few councils have tackled fundamental questions such as which services is it right to charge for, who should pay, and which services or users should be subsidised?
Under Best Value councils will be required to review the cost and quality of services they provide and to consult with the local community. The report provides ideas to assist the review of charging policies.
The Local Government Association welcomed the report, and blamed a legal system that puts restrictions on what councils can and cannot charge for. It is legal for a council to charge for use, for instance, of a super-loo, but not a urinal.
The LGA has backed the commission’s call for a new power to charge for all discretionary services.