1,400 oppose counil tax hike
By Mark HeathA RETIRED magistrate has vowed to go to prison rather than pay what she branded the “over-the-top” 18.5 % council tax rise.Incensed Betty Bone made her pledge after she presented a petition, signed by 1,400 people opposed to the huge council tax hike, to Suffolk county councillor David Rowe yesterday.
By Mark Heath
A RETIRED magistrate has vowed to go to prison rather than pay what she branded the “over-the-top” 18.5 % council tax rise.
Incensed Betty Bone made her pledge after she presented a petition, signed by 1,400 people opposed to the huge council tax hike, to Suffolk county councillor David Rowe yesterday.
Mrs Bone, who lives in Sudbury, then had a meeting with Mr Rowe - the council's budget portfolio holder, county councillor Terry Green and Bill Banks, the authority's head of finance.
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She warned them people in Suffolk, particularly pensioners, were “stretched to the limit” by the controversial increase.
Mrs Bone said afterwards: “I am very angry, particularly as far as pensioners are concerned. This 18.5 % increase is really over the top and, with a 30% rise in total over the last two years, the situation is ridiculous.
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“My contemporaries are just unable to find this money. I am sure that there will be people who will have to cut back on essentials because of this.
“I'm not going to pay it. Because inflation is 2.9%, I'll give them a bit extra and pay a 3% increase on last year's tax, but no more.
“If the worst comes to the worst, I'm willing to go to prison, but I hope that a significant number of pensioners will follow this lead and then there won't be enough room in prison for us all.”
During the meeting, Mrs Bone - backed by six fellow campaigners - accused Suffolk County Council of being inefficient and extravagant with its money and not considering pensioners and others on a low income.
Mr Rowe said because of a change in the way the Government calculated its annual grants - which make up two-thirds of council funding - Suffolk County Council had been left with less money than expected.
“As a result, just to stay where we were, we would have had to put council tax up by 13.2%,” he added.
“But we wanted to improve services, make them better and do more - we have come up with a list of over 100 improvements that we will be making to council services over the coming year, and that makes up the 18.5 %.”
Mr Rowe continued: “I am sympathetic to people who do not have an increase in their income, but unfortunately the council is not able to give them a decrease in their tax.
“If we cut council tax, it would have repercussions and it would be destructive for the people of Suffolk - I'm not going to do that.”
Mr Rowe told the group they were welcome to take part in community consultations before the council tax was set next year.
He added: “I pledge that we will try to set next year's tax as reasonably as we can, but at the same time making sure that it provides the services and facilities that people want.
“I'm not in a position to be able to give a figure for next year, but I want to ensure that the council is run as efficiently as possible, with no money being wasted.”
Mrs Bone, who now plans to continue her fight by lobbying her MP, Tim Yeo, said: “I feel this is just the start of a really big tax increase every year and I think that we've managed to convince Mr Rowe that we've had enough and we simply can't do any more in the way of paying it.
“I honestly believe that they will seriously consider our comments when they come to set the tax next year.”
Jeremy Pembroke, the Conservative group leader on the county council, who supported Mrs Bone in her petition campaign, also criticised the authority.
He said: “What this authority has to do is learn to live within its means, as everybody does - you can't always do the things that you want to do.
“Tax rises simply can't go on at this pace. There's got to be a major rethink in the way this council is run.”
Yesterday's meeting came as local government minister Nick Raynsford criticised councils for levying big hikes on taxpayers.
“We are disappointed some councils have decided to set high increases - they must explain to their taxpayers why they have done so,” he said.
“Councils must be clear that continued year-on-year increases of this scale will not be acceptable.”
Although Mrs Bone said she was willing to go to prison, it is a rare fate for non-taxpayers and serves more as a last resort available to magistrates after all other options have been exhausted.
Following a reminder, a summons would be served on the individual before the council could apply for a liability order at magistrates' court to give it a number of options - including taking cash from earnings or a close family member.
Bailiffs can also be called in, but if they are unsuccessful, the council can go back to court to get a no effects certificate - which would see magistrates ultimately decide the individual's fate.