Between 1997-98 and 2008-09, the average band D, two adult council tax in the Basildon district council area rose by 118 per cent. That includes the precepts for Essex county council, Essex police authority, Essex fire and rescue and any parish councils.
The corresponding figure for London was 98 per cent., and for England the figure was 100 per cent. The average council tax increase of 4 per cent. in 2008-09 is the lowest for 14 years—and the second lowest ever—and 2008-09 will be the 11th successive year in which we have increased local government funding by more than the rate of inflation.
Given that the council tax in Basildon district has more than doubled in the past 10 years and that the Local Government Association believes that that is largely because the Government have offloaded responsibilities on to councils generally, without providing the necessary funding—24-hour licensing laws is one example—will the Secretary of State explain to my constituents why the Government expect them to pay the bill for those extra responsibilities when they are already labouring under higher fuel bills and food prices?
The hon. Gentleman knows that in the past 10 years services have improved dramatically in local authority areas throughout the country. More than two thirds of local authorities are good or excellent. I trust that he also knows that the average council tax per dwelling in England is £204 less for those living in a Labour area than it is for people living in a Tory area, and £143 less if one lives in a Labour area rather than a Liberal Democrat area. Labour councils cost you less.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Two thirds of the people in this country live in bands A, B and C, with 15.9 per cent. of the population in band D. I am sure that he welcomes the neighbourhood policing teams that were announced this week, the children’s centres and the fact that recycling has increased from 7 to 32 per cent. That means that Labour councils not only cost you less, but deliver a better deal.
I know that the Secretary of State is a fair lady, so will she concede that her figures disguise the reality that council tax has more than doubled since the Government came to power, and that the remorseless increase in council tax is shown by all independent surveys to be one of the largest drivers in the increasing cost of living for families? The Government promised that the cost of the Mayor and the London assembly would be no more than 3p a week, but her figures disclose that the cost of London-wide services to Londoners has more than tripled under this Government, although I doubt whether Londoners regard themselves as three times safer or better transported.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his view that I am a fair person, and I shall respond to him in that spirit. I do not know whether he is aware that the figures in London are even starker. Council tax for people who live in Labour boroughs in London is £198 less than in Tory boroughs, and I was astounded to see that people in Liberal Democrat areas pay £521 more in council tax than people in Labour areas. The record of Ken Livingstone in London, with safer neighbourhood teams and better—
This is all good knockabout so far, but does the Secretary of State understand that since council tax was introduced in Wellingborough it has increased by 422 per cent. —the largest increase in the whole country? Does she accept that that is causing problems for pensioners and those on fixed incomes?
I entirely understand that families and pensioners, and people on fixed incomes, have to manage their budgets and look carefully at value for money. That is why, rather than this being knockabout stuff, it was important to stress the fact that the people in local government—particularly in Labour local authorities—are trying to secure value for money. However, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that the average pensioner household is in fact some £29 a week better off as a result of this Government’s proposals on tax, benefits, pension credit, the winter fuel allowance and free TV licences. Overall, pensioners are significantly better off, but of course I acknowledge that managing budgets is still pretty tough for some people.