Poll: Public sector misses out on £7million due to council tax exemption for USAF staff at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall

RAF Lakenheath main gate. RAF Lakenheath main gate.

Friday, March 28, 2014
2:52 PM

West Suffolk’s public sector misses out on more than £7million in council tax every year due to members of the United States Air Force being exempt from paying the bill, the EADT can reveal today.

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Thousands of troops from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall living off-base across St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath benefit from the exemption under legislation agreed back in 1952.

However, civic leaders in the area said last night that the USAF contributes in “many other ways” to the local economy.

While houses in the bases’ host district, Forest Heath, make up the brunt of the deficit, properties in neighbouring St Edmundsbury account for almost £1m of the shortfall, with 533 properties in Bury St Edmunds alone exempt from the charge this financial year.

Both bases contribute more than £500m to the local economy every year, while a spokeswoman for the USAF said yesterday that Mildenhall and Lakenheath pay an annual six-figure sum to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which is handed over to local authorities to compensate for the exemption.

But Lindis Percy, co-ordinator from the Campaign for Accountability of American Air Bases, said the US military “get all sorts of perks” when stationed in this country, and called for a change in the law.

She said: “The US visiting forces and their families use the facilities and provisions provided by the local council that everyone else has to pay for. We are clearly not all in together with special arrangements made for them a long time ago. However the world is now very different from when this was decided in the 1950s.

“The loss of this large amount of revenue is much needed in these days of cuts, cuts and more cuts.

“This unfair and inappropriate exemption by the US Visiting Forces and their families needs to be changed.”

In total, 4,214 houses in Forest Heath account for a shortfall of £6.13m, while 625 exempt properties in St Edmundsbury leave a deficit of £933,000, according to figures for the current financial year.

A spokeswoman for USAF said that between them the bases paid £769,500 to the MoD this year, as part of a national programme paid to local authorities that house military bases.

Local authorities are also reportedly compensated through the money they are awarded from central government.

James Waters, leader of Forest Heath District Council, said: “Putting aside the compensation the Government says it offers in formula grant, this just cannot be looked at in isolation.

“The economic value of the USAF based in the region in terms of jobs and support for local business means more people productively working and fewer claiming benefits.

“We have lived with this arrangement for a long time and understand that they contribute in many others ways. You have to look at the wider picture. As long as they are investing on British soil, it has to be of benefit.”

The most popular place for the military to live is Eriswell, with 1,220 properties exempt.

More than 400 houses do not pay the bill in Beck Row, Mildenhall, Red Lodge or Lakenheath, as well as Bury, but exemptions apply to properties across the region.

Every town or village in Forest Heath has at least one exempt property, with 206 houses exempt in Newmarket, while the likes of Haverhill, Great Barton and Stadishall have houses that do not pay due to USAF staff.

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