A HUGE rise in the amount of borrowing by Ealing Council could mean big tax increases for residents next year.

Debt from the cost of the council's Response programme and the purchase of Perceval House for new council offices has meant an increased borrowing of £177m over the next two years, to £516m.

The increase in the average council tax bill is thought to be £45 per household. So for a band D property, £218 of the bill would be to pay off interest, and not fund services.

Conservative finance spokesman Cllr Barbara Yerolemou said: "This extra debt is a millstone around the neck of the tax payer. If the council wants to keep tax lower, they will have to make cuts in services. The council embark on projects without taking into consideration what the long-term effects will be on the residents."

The council paid £19m this financial year in interest payments alone to service the debt, and states in its revenue budget report it expects this to rise to £24m next year.

This means that from April, claim Conservatives, more than 20 per cent of the money raised from council tax will go just to pay the interest on council debt.

Cllr Yerolemou said: "This huge increase in debt is very worrying, and will clearly place a heavy burden on council tax payers for many years to come."

She said Labour were "artificially limiting the increase in council tax in an election year", adding: "by borrowing more now, they are merely putting off difficult decisions until after the election."

But cabinet member for finance and performance Cllr Martin Beecroft called the claims "misleading" and said Conservatives "could not be trusted" with residents' money.

"At best it is misleading and at worst they don't understand local government," he said. "This borrowing is entirely prudent, affordable, and sustainable, and is being spent on street lamps, three new residential homes being built for our old people, and a new nursing home.

Cllr Beecroft said the real proportion of council tax going to pay the interest on the borrowing was actually 5.8 per cent and not 20 per cent.