Newmarket: Town council may face service cuts to maintain precept pledge

Jon Vale jon.vale@archant.co.uk
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
9:00 AM

A council has admitted it faces a daunting task if it wishes to stick to its pledge of raising its precept by only 1%.

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Newmarket Town Council’s finance and policy committee agreed the authority needs to find £20,000 of savings in its annual spend of around £500,000 after receiving the first draft of next year’s budget.

Last year the council raised its precept by 6% in a bid to safeguard services in the long term, but has been hit by increased pension and national insurance costs for its staff, as well as a reduction in support from Forest Heath District Council.

Changes to council tax rules meant town and parish councils’ income was significantly reduced. Central government has, through borough and district councils, provided a grant to compensate for this loss, but Forest Heath has agreed to phase this grant out by 25% each year over the next four years.

Committee member Bill Sadler said: “We are going to face this difficulty again next year, which is election year. If you’re going to put it up by 1%, you might as well put it up by higher, if you’re not going to keep it level.

“I wouldn’t worry about the difference between 1% and 1.8%. The difference is negligible.”

Newmarket Town Council has the fifth-biggest budget of any town council in Suffolk. It charges £93.62 to Band D properties, the third-highest figure in west Suffolk.

Town clerk Isabelle Barrett said: “Pence can make a difference to certain families. Savings have to be made and some services will have to be cut.”

Town and parish councils are currently the only authorities able to raise their precepts by more than 2% without holding a referendum.

This year, the national average Band D price rose by 5%, and local government minister Eric Pickles has said the 2% rule could be extended to include town and parish councils

Speaking after the meeting, councillor Warwick Hirst said: “It’s still early days. The accountant has come in, set a base level and said that’s what it would cost. That’s the challenge we have now.

“The county has had to do it, the district has had to do it. We’re looking at all costs.”

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