Council braced for 10% tax rise

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorHOUSEHOLDERS were warned last night to brace themselves for a possible three-figure rise in Council Tax bills.Suffolk County Council leaders admitted they were struggling to keep next year's increase below 10% - following the 18.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

HOUSEHOLDERS were warned last night to brace themselves for a possible three-figure rise in Council Tax bills.

Suffolk County Council leaders admitted they were struggling to keep next year's increase below 10% - following the 18.5% rise this year.

They said it needed £400million in Government grants next year to maintain services and to avoid cuts and another huge increase in the Council Tax.

The demand has been made ahead of this afternoon'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.

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It will send council leaders and treasurers scurrying for their calculators to work out how much money they will then have to find from the Council Tax to meet their spending plans for the next financial year.

If the increase in Suffolk County Council's share of the bill for 2004 is about 10%, that would mean it would rise from £890.28 for the average band D property to approaching £980 - a hike of almost £90.

When the charges from borough and district councils, Suffolk Police Authority and town and parish councils are added, the final Council Tax demand for the average property looks set to rise by more than £100.

Council Tax bills this year for band D householders ranged from £1,106.15 in the Forest Heath district to £1,255.91 in the Ipswich borough.

They are now resigned to the prospect of paying at least £1,200 across Suffolk next year for police and council services.

The councillor in charge of Suffolk County Council's budget process, David Rowe, said: “I can't guarantee the county's tax increase won't be more than 10%, but we are doing all we can to limit it to single figures.”

He added significant savings had been made on its procurement budget, which would net Council Tax payers millions of pounds.

Coupled with efficiency savings, the county council was hopeful the tax increase would be less than 10%.

Suffolk County Council's hopes rest on the Government's increase in grant being nearer 8% than the 2.7% rate of inflation.

In the current year, it was given £371m, way short of the total needed to maintain its level of services.

Mr Rowe said the council would require an increase in government support of about 8% to be able to carry on delivering a similar standard of services. “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,” he added

But he warned: “We are nearing the end of the road as far as efficiency savings are concerned. We will then have to make a political decision following consultations with residents - cut services or increase taxes.”

Much of the increase needed to maintain the authority's spending this year was diverted away from Suffolk to help councils in the North and Midlands, leading to an 18.5% rise in tax for county council services.

Instead of making cuts, the Labour-Liberal Democrat-controlled authority opted instead to increase Council Tax by a record-breaking 18.5%, which led to huge protests from householders.

Conservative opposition leader Jeremy Pembroke said the ruling administration now had to start controlling its overheads.

“Why does a £17m road maintenance budget include £4m for administration? The council is belatedly looking at its expenditure. It should have been doing this in the 10 years it has been in power,” he added.

“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.”

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