Council tax bills across the Midlands are set for inflation-busting increases next year, with shire counties likely to bear the brunt of Government spending restrictions.
Worcestershire County Council announced yesterday that it intended to shed 200 jobs, make £18 million of cuts to services and still increase the council tax by 4.9 per cent.
The council's Conservative leadership said it was being forced to deliver "robust and radical" budget changes because of a failure by the Government to recognise spending pressures faced by rural councils.
The county council's leader George Lord described a 2.1 per cent increase in Government revenue support grant for 2007 as inadequate. It was way below the real rate of inflation and did not take into account a 2.9 per cent wage rise settlement for local authority workers or the soaring cost of fuel bills.
Worcestershire is proposing a 4.9 per cent council tax increase for the second year running. This year's increase was only marginally below the five per cent cut-off level at which the Government considered imposing council tax capping on high-spending local authorities.
Other Midland shire counties also imposed above-inflation increases on council tax payers. Bills in Warwickshire and Staffordshire went up by 4.9 per cent, in Shropshire by 4.7 per cent and in Herefordshire by 4.6 per cent.
The metropolitan authorities, helped by more generous grants, were able to deliver far lower increases.
Bills in Birmingham rose by 1.9 per cent, in Dudley by 2.5 per cent and in Sandwell by 2.8 per cent.
The gap between support for the cities and the shires is set to widen next year.
Worcestershire will get a 2.1 per cent increase in grant compared with three per cent for Birmingham and Dudley, 2.5 per cent for Walsall and Sandwell and 2.4 per cent for Coventry.
Coun Lord said the Government had failed to recognise the financial strain on the county's social services of looking after an ageing population. Grant for Supporting People, to be spent on social care, had been cut and this would have a dramatic impact on services, he said.
Coun Lord insisted the cuts would not damage front line services.
Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff said the Government was directly to blame.
Mr Luff (Con) added: "There is only one man to blame for what is happening in Worcestershire, the Chancellor Gordon Brown."
Council tax bills in England and wales rose by 50 per cent between 1997 and 2003, against a 28 per cent rise in average earnings and a 13 per cent increase in inflation.
Even after the increase, council tax bills in Worcestershire will still be among the lowest in the Midlands. The average payment for a Band D property is £899, compared with £1,033 in Birmingham, £1,173 in Coventry and £1,156 in Wolverhampton.