Headlines: November 14th, 2003

The local policy think tank, the Local Government Information Unit, has added its voice to those warning the government over the possible level of council tax rises or cuts in services which councils can deliver. The unit’s chief executive has said ministers must heed the message from the Local Government Association that a gap of 800 million pounds in council budgets could mean another average double-digit percentage council tax increase or cuts in services.Dennis Reed said the estimated shortfall must be taken seriously. He warned against ministers continuing to put councils in a position where the delivery of costly new responsibilities imposed by Whitehall was not properly funded, and then painting councils as profligate and inefficient as an excuse for imposing central government capping. The LGIU believes that the best way to create a real impetus for local councils to be more efficient and accountable is to introduce radical reforms that would make local taxation fairer. It also wants changes that would see local government raising more than half its revenue locally.

Mr. Reed said it was disingenuous for the Government to present itself as the knight in shining armour riding over the hill to rescue local council taxpayers from their wicked councillors. “In fact, they are behaving like the dog in the old joke about the crossbreed between a Rottweiler and a St Bernard – it bites off your leg and then goes to get help,” he said.The unit is calling for a mature debate to address the current budgetary pressures on local authorities in areas such as education and new duties in children’s services