March 17 2014 Latest news:
West Suffolk reporter
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Taxpayers in west Suffolk may have to brace themselves for years of rising council tax bills as the borough council faces “difficult decisions” over future funding.
St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s new Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) has budgeted for a 2% increase on residents’ council tax bills for the three years from 2015/16.
The council has been able to freeze council tax for four of the last five years, with the 2014/15 rate also set to stay the same, primarily because central government offered hundreds of thousands of pounds in incentives for local authorities to freeze their rates.
However, a grant of £295,000 next year is due to plummet to £128,000 for 2015/16, with future grant support even less uncertain amid a climate of public sector austerity.
Overall, St Edmundsbury says it is facing a 48% cut in funding from central government.
David Ray, the council’s portfolio holder for resources and performance, said he could not commit to freezing taxes in the future, adding: “It’s a judgement we’ve got to make every year.
“We need to be more commercial, put our resources in things we have to do and the other priority areas we’ve decided, like economic growth, families and communities, and housing.
“This is not to say that times are not going to be hard. There are going to be difficult decisions, but we’ve set our priorities and those have to be our priorities going forward for the next few years.”
Figures from the MTFS estimate the council could face a shortfall as high as £757,000 over three years if it keeps its council tax bill at current levels.
St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath between them have saved £3.5million from moving to a shared service.
However, St Edmundsbury council says it needs to find a further £3.4m by 2018.
The council is aiming to act more commercially and perhaps even borrow money to invest, and Mr Ray said it was well-equipped going forward.
He added: “I’m very optimistic we’ve got a forward-thinking council – that’s not just the financial people, that’s across the board – and we are going to be in a good position, certainly relevant to other local authorities, in the future.
“Everybody is going through a difficult financial time as the government attempts to cut the debt down.
“They’re trying to cut down on the cost that is going to local authorities, as they’re cutting costs to other departments.”