Council denies tax hike blame
By Mark HeathA SENIOR councillor has denied claims made by a Government minister, in which he blamed local authorities for last year's huge rises in Council Tax bills.
By Mark Heath
A SENIOR councillor has denied claims made by a Government minister, in which he blamed local authorities for last year's huge rises in Council Tax bills.
Nick Raynsford, minister for local government, said some councils had not budgeted well enough, resulting in the controversial rises - including 18.5% in Suffolk.
“We are expecting authorities to budget prudently and to come in with reasonable tax increases,” he added.
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“Many did, but unfortunately a significant number did not. We don't expect them to constantly add up new costs and new services and say 'Well, the only way to meet these is to go to the electorate'.
“We do believe they have got to look at how they can improve services, make them more efficient and achieve savings, which in turn mean they can keep a modest level of council tax increase.”
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Mr Raynsford continued: “What I am concerned to do is send a message to all local authorities that the Government will continue to provide generous increases in grant to fund local services.
“We cannot fund everything and we expect councils to be prudent and to look at their budgets carefully and ensure they are giving value for money to their residents.
“We expect them next year to set much, much lower Council Tax increases than they have in the current year.”
David Rowe, Suffolk County Council's deputy leader and portfolio holder for strategic and financial planning, refuted Mr Raynsford's claim.
He said: “Last year's Council Tax was high as a number of factors all came together at the same time.
“These include the settlement from the Government, which was not sufficient to maintain a standstill position, the changes to the grant distribution formula, a large increase in demand for services and a large increase in some of the prices the council had to pay for goods and services.
“We are not in the business of apportioning blame and instead are directing our efforts to ensure next year's Council Tax rise is affordable and that we provide quality services.”
Mr Rowe added: “We will be looking to set a budget next year which balances providing quality public services with an affordable Council Tax as we are aware of the effect a high increase in Council Tax would have on those on fixed incomes.”