18.5% Suffolk tax rise approved
By GRAHAM DINESPolitical EditorSUFFOLK Conservatives tried to rescue council taxpayers from a massive 18.5% hike by calling on the county council to make savings of nearly £8million.
THREE Liberal Democrats broke party discipline last night to vote with the Conservatives against a massive 18.5% hike in council tax.
John Field, John Kelso and Adi Lavender showed their disapproval at the Budget set by the proposed by the ruling Labour-Liberal Democrat executive by supporting the Tories.
In addition, Baroness Scott of Needham Market left before the end of yesterday's meeting and Independent Richard Kemp also voted no.
Earlier, the Tories had tried to rescue council taxpayers from the increase by calling on the county council to make savings of nearly £8million.
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However, their alternative budget was ruled out of order because they had not given the requisite two days notice, leaving group leader Jeremy Pembroke to accuse the administration of silencing those trying to protect "pensioners and young married couples with children from such a savage rise."
The 18.5% rise, which will take the average Band D property rate to £890.02 for county service, was approved by 41 votes to 35.
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Mr Pembroke said savings should be sought in central administration charges and a thorough review of the council's property portfolio.
"Our alternative is not about cutting services. By managing resources more imaginatively, the budget could easily be reduced by £8m. And the increase in council tax by 4½%."
Resources portfolio holder David Rowe (Labour) described the council's spending plans of £580,524,671 as "a bold budget."
He said he "did not apologise" for the increase, as it would ensure money spent "will deliver the services we have said we will."
He revealed that if the Government had not changed the grant formula, Suffolk would have had an extra £14m to spend, giving a council tax rise of just 10.5% based on the same plans.
"This was the first Government settlement based on the new formula of distribution and Suffolk received an increase of 6.1%. We lost very considerably in an element called resource equalisation, which rewards councils already spending more."
The adjustment meant taking cash away from authorities like Suffolk and giving it to counties in the north and midlands.
Richard Kemp said that by raising tax 18.5%, councillors had failed the people they represent.
"We should be setting up an all party body to look at ways of removing unproductive management tiers and giving the public real value for money."
Backbench Tory Selwyn Prior called the rise "shabby,"
He added: "We were elected to look after the people of Suffolk, not fleece them."
Labour's Graham Manuel said he was only voting for the increase because he had been ordered to do so by the Labour whips.
"There is little public support and by imposing it, we will increase the level of cynicism among the voters," he added.
A Mori poll of 3,259 residents conducted last summer for the county council showed 59% wanted to keep council tax at the current level with just 21% supporting an increase.