COUNCIL tax is set to fall for the fourth year running as Hammersmith and Fulham Council plans to cut costs, close 'under-used' services and concentrate its staff in fewer buildings.

The move will see bills for the coming year fall by three per cent, in line with annual cuts made since the Conservatives took over control of the authority three years ago.

Council leader Stephen Greenhalgh said the policy of cutting costs across the board had been 'hugely popular' with residents.

But critics this week claimed the reductions had been countered by the introduction of around 500 'stealth taxes' which affect the most vulnerable people living in the borough.

Mr Greenhalgh said: "Some critics have argued in the past that cutting costs is unpopular - this is nonsense. What we are doing in Hammersmith & Fulham is hugely popular with local residents.

"All councils have a duty to respond to the perfect storm of social and economic challenges caused by Britain’s toxic debt mountain which is fast approaching £1.4 trillion. Britain is heading for bankruptcy unless we all start making radical changes that can truly deliver better services for less money."

Average council tax bills posted through residents' doors in March next year will be £122 cheaper than they were in 2006/07, according to the council.

One residents' association leader privately welcomed the reduction and said some people were relieved not to have to pay for services which they may not need.

But others claim front-line services are suffering as the council looks for every opportunity to switch operations over to private contractors.

Many of the key services provided by the council have already been outsourced to private firms.

Refuse and recycling collection and street cleaning are carried out by Serco, grounds are maintained by Quadron, schools and council buildings are cleaned by Turners, and calls to the council are handled by a call centre near Manchester run by private operator Agilysis.

Highways and engineering, street lighting services and repairs of non-residential buildings have also been contracted out.

Labour leader Steve Cowan said: "This is the most controversial stealth taxing, front line service cutting, self-serving administration in the country.

While Labour is pledging to bring down all tax and charges, this Conservative administration has actually introduced over 500 new or increased stealth taxes during the last three years."

Public sector UNISON claimed the cuts showed 'a frightening glimpse of the reduced public sector of the future' if the Conservatives win the next election.Heather Wakefield, UNISON head of local government, said: "Self-imposed budget cuts hit vulnerable people hard. It means closure of day centres, charges for meals on wheels, and cuts to home care services. And in Hammersmith and Fulham it means making plans to tear down council housing, selling off land to developers."

The council has said it will guarantee a home in the area to anyone who lives in an estate earmarked for regeneration by a private firm.