PLANS to increase council tax nearly two per cent in Worcestershire have been criticised by the county's Labour group leader - who has been challenged to find an alternative.

Councillor Adrian Hardman, the Conservative leader at County Hall, says he wants Labour to reveal what it would "cut" to avoid increasing household bills.

A crunch vote is taking place next month on increasing the bill 1.9 per cent, the maximum legally allowed without staging a costly referendum.

The rise, which would kick in from April, would be the second hike in two years and add £20.54 to the average band D bill.

Cllr Hardman came under criticism about the move during a meeting, with the Labour group leader Councillor Peter McDonald requesting a re-think.

"In this leader's report I think it should be amended so people are very clear on what is happening to their council tax," he said.

"What it doesn't say is that council tax also went up around £20 last year, so what we're actually talking about here is a £40 rise over two years."

The criticism led to Cllr Hardman challenging him to provide an alternative idea next month.

The suggestion of a rise has come about after the council raised serious concerns about children's services, with the number of youngsters in care rising nine per cent over the last year to 700.

A council tax increase of 1.94 per cent would mean an extra £4 million could be pumped into the service to cope with demand.

Cllr Hardman said: "I was interested to see at our last cabinet meeting that the Labour group leader was against this rise.

"I look forward to seeing his alternative budget on what he would cut in order to continue the spending on vulnerable children.

"I maintain that the increased spending in this area is absolutely vital for this county."

The second successive proposed rise comes on the back of freezes in 2011, 2012 and 2013 - with the Conservative leadership opting to take advantage of a Government cash sweetener each year as a reward for keeping bills down.

The Government's 'grant freeze' offer is worth the equivalent of a one per cent council tax rise.