Council's confidence over tax rise
A SUFFOLK council believes it can keep next year's council tax rise to the rate of inflation.Ipswich borough council, which in April imposed a tax increase of 4.
By Graham Dines
A SUFFOLK council believes it can keep next year's council tax rise to the rate of inflation.
Ipswich borough council, which in April imposed a tax increase of 4.92% – nearly twice the inflation rate – is following central government guidelines which indicate no local authority should have to implement the double figure increases of two years' ago.
John Le Grys, the executive portfolio holder for resources in Ipswich, says councils are beginning to learn and benefit from new thinking at the Treasury. "Chancellor Gordon Brown has focussed attention onto serious, long term financial planning.
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"Gone are the days when councils staggered from year to year not knowing future spending patterns – we have been told to concentrate on three-year forecasts and that is Ipswich is doing.
"Our aim is to hit the rate of inflation when we come to set our tax rate in the new year," says Mr Le Grys. "In any event, our hope is that it will be no more than 3%."
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The main uncertainty in the council's planning is the amount of deficit in the staff pension fund, administered by Suffolk county council.
The next valuation is due in the autumn, which will impact on the contribution made by council tax payers to shore up the fund.
Mr Le Grys has promised that the proposed move by the borough council from its current civic centre headquarters to new offices out of the town centre "will have a neutral impact on council tax."
However, charges made by the council to the public for its services, such as car parks and leisure, will rise by 5% from October, which is twice the inflation rate.
With a General Election looming, probably in May or June next year, the Government is desperate to prevent councils repeating the deeply unpopular and electorally damaging council tax rises seen in 2003.
Suffolk county council hiked tax by 18.5% – more than six times the then rate of inflation – while Essex county council's tax went up by 16.7% and Ipswich's by 11.9%.
A deliberate decision by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to deny councils in the south and east of England vital millions in grant and give the cash to authorities in the north was blamed by leaders of counties and districts for the shock rises.