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By remarkable coincidence an awful lot of those councils planning to put up the Council Tax this year are planning an increase of 3.5%. Eight councils are planning an increase of exactly this amount. Green-run 1 Brighton & Hove City Council and the Labour councils of Chesterfield, Darlington, Leicester, Middlesbrough, Preston, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees. Four more Labour councils are fractionally lower Stoke-on-Trent proposes a 3.49% hike. Gravesham 3.48%. Gedling and Nottingham are each planning a 3.4% rise.

Doubtless they will all claim that this figure has been reached after expert high minded advice from their apolitical Finance Directors. That it has been determined as the absolute minimum required to maintain vital services. But what a coincidence that this rigorous objectively minded process came out 3.5% or 3.49% or 3.48% or 3.4% turned out to be the sum required rather than 3.51% or 3.52% or 3.6%.

The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles suspects that the explanation may be that for any increase above 3.5% these councils would require the approval of their residents in a referendum. Something the councils are desperate to avoid despite their public claims that their residents support Council Tax increases.

Eric says:

"We are seeing a number of Labour councils acting as referendum dodgers who quite cynically are raising council tax by 3.49 percent in a naked move to dodge the public vote.

"These councils are treating the electorate with contempt. They should have the courage to put their hikes to the vote and justify the tax rises. Instead they are running for cover.

"Freezing council tax is practical help every councillor can offer their constituents.

"Councillors have a moral duty to sign up to keep down the cost of living. Anything less is a kick in the teeth to hard-working, decent taxpayers."

At least Conservative-run Surrey had the subtlety to keep their rise down to 2.99%. The council explains that rise on the grounds that "costs were spiralling out of control".

So that's all right then.

If I asked my bank manager for an increased overdraft on the grounds that "my costs were spiralling out of control" what would he say?

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