MUCH as the Conservatives might wish to instigate a blame culture for this year's huge council tax rises in Surrey Heath of 17.5%, their claim that it is the government's fault simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

It is correct that this year has seen a number of new government initiatives which have affected all councils, and according to Surrey Heath's own figures, just released, these have cost £192,000.

However, it is also true that the government has given Surrey Heath an increase this year above inflation which provides for most of this total.

So why are Surrey Heath taxpayers having to fork out an additional 17.5% when other local councils in this area with the same government initiatives have had more modest rises?

The answer mainly lies in the finances of the ArtsLink theatre over the past two years.

Due to a business plan which was not supported by the Labour group and later found to be totally unrealistic, ArtsLink went significantly over budget.

For example, the original plan intended a total subsidy for the year 2002-03 of £402,290 but now it is to be a total subsidy of £631,000 for the same financial year.

This increase is far more than any government initiatives and this alone accounts for a council tax rise of 6.2%.

In fact, the average household contributes £17.11 a year just to subsidise the arts venue — a level almost identical to the increase in this year's council tax of £1.48 a month.

Cllr Rodney Bates, Members' Room, Surrey Heath Council.