’A PROPOSED increase in charges for some council services has been described by critics as “unjust” and “a form of stealth taxation”.

Parking fees for more than an hour at The Malls, cemetery charges, and annual visitor parking permits are likely to increase above the rate of inflation from April next year.

Opposition councillors have billed the increases as a “stealth tax”, while supporters say increases are necessary for the borough council to balance its books and offset the effects of falling Government grants.

From the hundreds of different services offered by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, the pricing changes are aimed at boosting overall income by 2.25 per cent – the same as September’s national rate of inflation.

This balancing act includes freezing a large proportion of charges for 17-council run car parks, a move designed to “encourage a thriving town centre economy”, according to a report to the borough’s economic prosperity and performance committee.

But included in the list is a six per cent jump in parking fees at The Malls for up to two hours, and a 50 per cent increase in an annual visitor parking permit in residential areas.

Under the proposed changes, the cost of digging a new grave will rise by five per cent, from £1,012 this year, to £1,063 from April 2013, and the cost of buying a grave plot at the Worting Road cemetery is set to rise from £907 this year to £952 next year.

Speaking at the meeting, South Ham Labour councillor Sean Keating said all council fees and charges should be increased at a uniform rate across the board.

“I do believe we should be consistent and not seek more than 2.25 per cent in the current economic climate for any fees and charges,” said Cllr Keating. “To say now that we increase them (cemetery charges) by either five or 10 per cent I think is unjust.”

Cllr John Shaw, Liberal Democrat ward member for Brookvale and Kings Furlong, said raising charges for services that residents had little choice in paying was a form of stealth taxation.

“What is particularly concerning about that (visitor parking permit increases) is that effectively it is a stealth tax,” said Cllr Shaw. “It is something that people can’t really avoid.”

But Cllr Roger Gardiner, Conservative councillor for Pamber and Silchester, said that if the increases did not happen, the council could be forced to raise council tax. “If we don’t increase our income by an average of 2.25 per cent overall, we are going to have a situation where we are going to have to make cuts elsewhere to offset the reduction in our income, or else increase the council tax, and that would be unfair to everybody.”

The proposed changes will go before the Conservative-led Cabinet on December 4. If they approve the increases, final approval will need to be given by the full council in February 2013.