Council tax freeze for fifth year at St Edmundsbury Borough as they plan to continue ‘risky’ commercial activities to boost income

West Suffolk House

West Suffolk House - Credit: Archant

Council tax is to be frozen by St Edmundsbury Borough Council as it moves to boost income through “risky” commercial activities.

The move has been recommended in the 2015/16 budget and it will be the fifth year running the tax has been frozen, subject to full council approval later this month.

Against the backdrop of a 48% cut in government funding over the last two years, the council hopes to generate income by investing in projects such as tourism and housing.

The proposal has raised concerns that the council is over reaching, with independent councillor David Nettleton saying it should “stick to doing what we are good at”.

David Ray, cabinet member for resources, admitted that the move towards more commercial activities was riskier than council tax income.

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“The quick and simple answer to falling government support is easy, raise the council tax. But we know that people are struggling through austerity and that money is tight, so we have decided not to,” he said.

“Seven or eight years ago when we had to start making savings it was easy, we were very inefficient back then.

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“Then we had to make more savings and we moved towards joining forces with Forest Heath (District Council).

“But now we have to be more creative, which is where becoming more commercially minded comes into it.”

Both Mr Ray and Sara Mildmay-White, deputy council leader, stressed that investing in projects not only enabled the council to generate income, but to benefit the borough as a whole.

Mrs Mildmay-White said: “The council has consistently been committed to a regime of financial discipline which means the cabinet is confidently able to recommend a council tax freeze.”

She said that the council’s role has changed from an organisation that may have once built community centres and museums to one that has a role in helping bring about community projects, not pay for them.

“Where we might have given a grant, we would now make a loan, which when repaid can be recycled and used again,” she said.

“We can help organisations with the seed money and support to make a project happen, not pay for it in full.”

She pointed to the Haverhill Research Park as an example, where the council lent £750,000 and helped bring in £4million of investment, creating 5,000 jobs.

David Nettleton, member for the Risbygate ward, said: “There is a risk that instead of making money, they end up losing it.

“They are talking about building houses, I know there is a housing shortage, but that should be left to the housing associations.”

He argued there could be a case for council tax increases, branding the continued freeze unsustainable into the future.

“You have to sell it to them (the public), tell them how it will benefit them and put it to the vote,” he added.

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