Figure it out yourselves

By the time you read this, the consultation round for next year s budget (and hence next year s Council Tax) will have started. The format of the consultation will change slightly because we listened to the criticism you made of last year s process. You t

By the time you read this, the consultation round for next year's budget (and hence next year's Council Tax) will have started. The format of the consultation will change slightly because we listened to the criticism you made of last year's process.

You told us that you saw little point in asking people to opt for the options we gave you last year - four, five or six per cent. You saw little significant differences in the prices.

You knew that the cuts necessary for four per cent were so vicious that most of our councillors could not have accepted them, and at six per cent there would have been a significant chance that the Government would cap us. "It was obvious all along", you said, "that you would be going for five per cent."

A fair point, it seemed to us, so this year, facing the same problems, we are telling you that we will be going for a five per cent rise. We are telling you that even this will require painful service cuts to be made and we are inviting you to suggest which of our service areas should be protected from cuts more than others.

We are all well aware of a body of opinion which holds that such a rise - greater than the prevailing rate of inflation - is unfair and unnecessary. We disagree, but you will be perfectly entitled to put your contrary view into the consultation process.

Our starting point, as always, is that we are a low-charging, low-spending council and are not well supported by Government grant.

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Our grant for next year will be 2.9 per cent greater than this year's. If you think that this is more than the rate of inflation, ask yourself why the state pension will increase by 3.6 per cent next April. The average grant increase for county councils will be 4.1 per cent, and yet we are, this year, the third-lowest charger in Council Tax terms.

Readers of a mathematical inclination might like to suggest whether a 4.2 per cent increase in Bedfordshire (the third highest Council Tax charger) is more or less painful than what we are proposing.

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