£400m demand from county council

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorSUFFOLK needs £400m in Government grants next year to maintain services in the hope of avoiding another 18.5% increase in council tax.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

SUFFOLK needs £400m in Government grants next year to maintain services in the hope of avoiding another 18.5% increase in council tax.

The demand has been made ahead of tomorrow's announcement in the House of Commons on how much councils across England will be receiving to support schools, social services, libraries and road maintenance.

Any figure less than £400m is likely to lead to swingeing council tax increases and/or a cuts in services.

In the current year, Suffolk was given £371m, way short of the total needed to maintain its level of services. Much of the extra cash needed to maintain the council's spending was diverted away from Suffolk to help councils in the north and midlands.

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Instead of making cuts, the Labour-Liberal Democrat controlled authority opted instead to increase council tax by a record breaking 18.5% which lead to massive protests from householders.

Conservative opposition leader Jeremy Pembroke said the chickens had now come home to roost for the county council. "It has got to start controlling its central overheads – why does a £17m road maintenance budget include £4m for administration?

"The council is belated looking at its expenditure. It should have been doing this in the 10 years it has been in power.

"This year, Labour and Lib Dem councillors meekly allowed the Government to divert £14m away from Suffolk to councils in the midlands and north. It was this county's pensioners that suffered, yet there was no protest whatsoever from county hall," said Mr Pembroek.

David Rowe, the council's resources portfolio holder, insisted Suffolk was conducting a "comprehensive review" of its budgets to look at the county's services and to identify savings.

"The council would require an increase in government support of around 8% to be able to carry on delivering a similar standard of services," says Mr Rowe.

"This covers demand pressures, inflation and meeting new requirements from the Government, including the Secretary of State for Education and Skills' requirement for a guaranteed minimum increase in every school's budget.

"We have been doing all we can to make sure any increase in council tax is reasonable for tax payers. We have lobbied the Government for a realistic increase. We have shown our commitment to a reasonable level of council tax by already identifying £5million of savings and are continuing to look for further savings."

Local government minister Nick Raynsford is due to make the announcement some time after 12.30 tomorrow afternoon.

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