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Mr. Edward Davey: Did not that same CIPFA report say that spending pressures are building up in the system which threaten a huge council tax rise after the election because the Government have not guaranteed that they will repeat the one-off bribe detailed in the pre-Budget report?

Mr. Raynsford: I am a little surprised by the hon. Gentleman's language. I will come to his point later, but the claim that there was a bribe is not worthy of him. I am sure that he will accept that the CIPFA report confirms that the increase in council tax this year will be the lowest for 11 years, but one would not have had the slightest idea about that from what the hon. Member for Meriden said. Her speech was one of total delusion that showed that she simply did not understand reality.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman think that in addition to predicting massive council tax rises next year, the CIPFA report took into consideration the fact that the council tax for band B properties has gone up by 76 per cent. since 1997?

Mr. Raynsford: As I said, I shall come on to the subject of next year. The hon. Gentleman should remember that the CIPFA report starts with a clear statement that we will have the lowest increase in council tax for 11 years. The consequence of that will be an average increase of less than £1 a week. Those are the facts, so I am surprised that he and his colleagues are not celebrating the good news that council tax bills are being brought down from the unacceptably high levels that we have experienced.
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Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raynsford: I want to make a bit of progress, but I will give way later.

The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) should recognise that it is no accident that we will have the lowest increase for 11 years. It is the result of hard work over three years to bring down council tax from the unjustifiable levels that we saw in 2003–04. Last year, with additional resources and the judicious use of our capping powers, we cut the increase from 12.9 per cent. to 5.9 per cent. We will take the same approach this year, and the CIPFA report suggests that the increase will fall again to just 4 per cent.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raynsford: I want to make a bit of progress.

This situation has been achieved with no help at all from the Conservative party. It has gone wobbly on capping, conveniently forgetting its record in government, and its councils have the lamentable record of making the largest council tax increases. The figures speak for themselves—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) would do well to listen to these figures.

Latest indications show that while councils have budgeted prudently overall and kept council tax levels down, a clutch of councils is bucking the trend. Aylesbury Vale district council is reported to be considering a 9.2 per cent. increase. Huntingdonshire district council is thought to be making a 12.7 per cent. increase, and Mid Bedfordshire district council a 13 per cent. increase. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Runnymede borough council has already set a 17.5 per cent. increase. Hambleton district council has set a 17.9 per cent. increase.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con) rose—

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con) rose—

Mr. Raynsford: If the hon. Gentlemen restrained themselves, they might find these figures instructive. They can make their interventions after they have listened to the figures because they tell an interesting story.

North Dorset district council has set a 23.7 per cent. increase and South Cambridgeshire district council has set a 100 per cent increase—yes, 100 per cent. What do all the councils that I have mentioned have in common? They are controlled or led by the Conservatives. That is the common factor behind the disproportionate increases in council tax.

Mr. Moss: I am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight on Huntingdonshire district council. Could the proposed increase in its council tax have anything remotely to do with the fact that the Government have clawed back £750,000 of its grant?

Mr. Raynsford: No. The hon. Gentleman should do his homework. He knows that Huntingdonshire district
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council received an 8.5 per cent. grant increase. How does he have the nerve to come to the House to make such a complaint, given that the authority will receive a grant increase that is massively above inflation, yet wishes to impose a wholly exceptional council tax increase on his constituents?

Alistair Burt: The right hon. Gentleman referred to the outstanding increase in mid-Bedfordshire of 13.3 per cent. Is he aware that Mid Bedfordshire district council has the 10th lowest district charge of 238 authorities in England? The 13.3 per cent. increase is equivalent to £1 a month.

Mr. Raynsford: I am well aware that Mid Bedfordshire district council received a 5.2 per cent. grant increase. Contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Meriden that those Conservative councils were suffering from unreasonably low grant increases, they have received huge grant increases well above inflation. It is because they cannot manage their affairs properly that their residents have been confronted with wholly unreasonable council tax increases.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): The Minister will know that the increase in Runnymede, which he mentioned, is equivalent to 34p a week. Over the eight years in which the Government have been in office, Runnymede has received an increase in total grant per capita of the princely sum of 0.4 per cent., which is equivalent to a 25 per cent. cut in real terms. Will he confirm, however, that the district councils on the list that he read out have something else in common, as their band D council tax is below the Government's notional band D figure?

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman will know that his per capita figures are not given on a like-for-like basis. It is terribly easy to compare unlike with unlike, which creates a distorted picture. On a like-for-like basis, Runnymede council—I am speaking about comparable services because, as he knows, they can change from year to year—has once again received an inflation-matching increase in grant this year. It is one of the most affluent authorities in the country, with one of the largest council tax bases. If all other variables are removed, the single factor that links the councils that I mentioned is the fact that they are all Conservative-led or Conservative-controlled. Those abnormally high council tax increases are not the product of reduced government grant—every council in the country received an increase in grant, on a like-for-like basis, at least equivalent to inflation, and that never happened under Conservative Governments. Nor is it the case, as some Conservatives have dishonestly sought to claim, that all the grant has been shifted "up north". Many of my hon. Friends might wish that that were the case, but as the figures show, the southern regions have done just as well from the 2005–06 settlement as the northern ones.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): The Minister will be acutely aware of discomfort in loyal Labour Reading at receiving a grant increase of 4.9 per cent., when affluent Tory Wokingham benefited from a
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13.9 per cent. grant increase? Whatever accusations one levels at the Minister, they are not about partisanship in local government grant settlements in Berkshire.

Mr. Raynsford: I take that mild rebuke from my hon. Friend as an indication that the Opposition's allegations are wholly unfounded. It is sad that the hon. Member for Meriden, who made those claims, did not have the decency to withdraw them.

Authorities in the south-east will receive a formula grant increase of 5.2 per cent. in the coming year. Authorities in the north-west will receive an average of 5.1 per cent.; authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber will receive an increase of 5.2 per cent.; and authorities in the north-east an increase of 5.3 per cent. So much for the nonsense from the Opposition about favouring authorities in the north over those in the south.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The Minister talked about the increase for authorities in the north-east. Can he explain why the Prime Minister's constituency of Sedgefield has had a per capita increase of 68 per cent. under this Government?

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