With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer questions 7 and 12 together. It is councils that decide the level of council tax. The Department publishes the actual figures each year after all authorities have made their budget returns in March. We will do so again, as usual, this year.
Does the Minister not understand that people are not fools and they know perfectly well that it is not just councils that set council tax? They know that the Prime Minister is introducing another stealth tax here by imposing statutory regulations on local authorities without adequately funding them to carry out their responsibilities.
We have an established system that recognises the net increase in any extra burdens and responsibilities that we place on local authorities, and that is reflected in the settlement. There is no reason why anyone should experience excessive council tax rises this year. The increase that we have made continues the real-terms increase for local government that we have seen over the last 10 years under this Government. It gives all local authorities the certainty of knowing for three years what they will receive, it gives them the greater flexibility and freedoms for which they have asked, and it makes clear that their ability to manage lies, in many ways, in their own hands—in the efficiencies that they should be able to achieve for their council tax payers over the next three years.
The Minister will know that Conservative- controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council is proposing a 3 per cent. cut in council tax for the second successive year. That compares with an average annual increase of 7.7 per cent. under Labour over the previous 12 years. Remarkably, although band D council tax will now be £863 a year rather than the £1,064 that it would be if Labour were still in charge, the Audit Commission’s independent rating for the council’s services has increased from three stars to four. Surely the Minister must join me in congratulating the council on its excellent performance.
Of course it had a very good basis—a Labour basis—on which to build. Residents of Hammersmith and Fulham may well be looking at council tax cuts, as they did in the current year, but they are also looking at library cuts, law centre cuts and cuts in vital voluntary sector groups.
The hon. Gentleman refers to band D council tax figures, but fewer than one in six dwellings across the country are in band D. If he wants to swap figures according to political control, I must tell him that the average council tax level for all dwellings is £260 higher under Conservative authorities than under Labour authorities this year, and rose by more this year than last year.
The Minister’s last statement cannot go unchallenged. As he well knows, that difference is simply because there are more properties in higher bands in Conservative authority areas. I hope he will apologise for misleading the House in such a way.
As the hon. Gentleman represents the City, one would expect him to be good with figures. I repeat that the problem with band D figures is that fewer than one in six properties are in band D. The right figures to use are those for the average council tax on all dwellings. Let me give them to the hon. Gentleman. The average council tax under Labour authorities this year was £938, the average under Conservative authorities was £1,200, and the average under Liberal Democrat authorities was £1,039. There have been higher rates and higher rises under the Tories than under Labour.