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No tax rise from county

PUBLISHED: 09:00 10 November 2011

County council leader Mark Bee

County council leader Mark Bee

Archant

HOUSEHOLDS will face no rise in the county’s element of their council tax bills for the second year running in April next year.

That is the pledge from council leader Mark Bee as the budget process gets underway at Endeavour House.

But he warned there could be major changes in the way the county delivers its services as it looks to cut £53 million from its budget over the next two years.

A prime candidate for cost-cutting in the county is the number of buildings that are owned or leased by the authority.

Mr Bee said there were 2,500 public sector buildings across Suffolk, not including council homes, split between local authorities, health bodies, police, and central government bodies.

He said: “There is tremendous scope to rationalise that across the public sector as a whole by working together with other bodies.

“In Haverhill we are bringing together a number of bodies in one public sector centre and we have already done that at West Suffolk House in Bury St Edmunds.”

The first draft of the council’s proposed budget for next year should be clear next week when papers for the scrutiny committee which is due to meet on November 24 are published.

Mr Bee was not able to give any details of the proposals – but said they would still be open for discussion.

He said: “We are still in the second phase of the consultation period and we still want to hear people’s views.

“There is some ‘wriggle room’ built into the proposals coming out next week if people feel strongly about one issue or another – but there do have to be some serious savings.”

The administration is working to try to ensure that most of the savings are achieved in administration costs and among management rather than in front line services.

Mr Bee was hopeful that most people who use county council services would not notice a change in the service they receive – although the level of bureaucracy should fall.

He said: “I have heard that with all the checking and accounting that at one stage we were spending a pound on administration for every pound that was actually being put into a service.

“Of course there need to be checks, but we will be able to reduce the level of bureaucracy at the authority.”

Mr Bee has met with members of his cabinet and senior council officers to identify the savings that are needed.

He said: “I have challenged them to come up with necessary changes and after a day of discussions I think we are getting there. It has not been an easy process.”

The second phase of the public consultation process is currently underway, and there are series of public forums across the county between now and early December.

Reaction from those forums – and in the public consultation exercise which was carried out between the end of September and early this month will be considered when the draft budget is drawn up early in the new year.

The proposed budget for 2012/13 will be discussed by the county’s cabinet on January 24 and is due to be approved by the full council on February 9 next year.

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