l POLICE chiefs have come out of a "very tough budget-making" process to hike the council tax for West Mercia Constabulary by four per cent.

After putting up its share of the final tax bill by 14.9 per cent last year, the authority found it hard to keep within Government demands to keep increases low, said chairman of West Mercia Police Authority, Bob Forster.

He said: "We have faced a very tough budget-making process this year with the possibility of being capped by the Government if we were judged to set too high a budget. We had to work within the boundaries set by the Government last year.

"Pressure on the authority to provide an effective and efficient police force within these severe budgetary contraints has been considerable."

The rise means the average band D rate payer will have to pay £143.17 for the police during 2005/06.

l FIRE chiefs have avoided another tussle with the Government by keeping their cash demand down for the coming year.

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Authority had to remove £1 million from its budget and slash £3.73 off the average bill after a massive 29.4 per cent increase last February.

It has this year set an increase of 4.6 per cent, an extra £2.57 on last year's final bill, making the total payment for the coming year £59.05.

The Government has threatened to cap authorities which set increases above five per cent for 2005/06.

Authority spokesman Alec Mackie said: "We are pleased that we are within the guidelines laid down by the government."

The capping had caused "considerable problems" but community fire safety projects and the national modernation programme could now be re-instated, he said.

This was due to the authority receiving an increased cash settlement from the Government for the coming financial year.

l WORCESTERSHIRE County Council will take an extra £32.51 from the average council tax payer in the coming year.

Members voted through an increase of 3.9 per cent. It is the fourth successive year that increases have gone through the Tory-led council unopposed.

The average final bill for the county council will be £857.03.

Council leader, Councillor George Lord, said: "This budget is all about services and it will allow continued growth in the services we provide.

"We are an excellent council and by agreeing this budget we will continue to provide services worthy of that title."

An extra £500,000 and £600,000, respectively, has been earmarked for services for older people and young people during the next financial year as part of the settlement.