Council tax to rise by 4.5%
HOUSEHOLDERS whose council tax bills are set to go up by 4.5% in April were last night warned to expect more hikes in future.Suffolk County Council, announcing the increase yesterday, said it had kept the rise to a minimum after receiving what it describes as a “devastating” Government grant.
HOUSEHOLDERS whose council tax bills are set to go up by 4.5% in April were last night warned to expect more hikes in future.
Suffolk County Council, announcing the increase yesterday, said it had kept the rise to a minimum after receiving what it describes as a “devastating” Government grant.
The authority was handed a £4million settlement, forcing it to find £24m in savings.
This resulted in sweeping proposals for cuts being put forward, including the loss of 112 jobs and the axing of more than 20 uneconomic bus services.
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But yesterday the council said it has backed down on moves to save £61,000 from the funding of voluntary organisations in the adult care and community services portfolio.
And instead of cutting £645,000 from the children, schools and young people's portfolio, it has pledged to find efficiencies by merging services.
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Other changes will see an extra £1million spent on highways infrastructure work, while savings on the highways safety budget will be halved, from £100,000 to £50,000.
Plans to save £9,000 from reducing animal inspections carried out by Felixstowe Port Police have also been scrapped.
Despite making the cutbacks, the council is bracing itself for more tough decisions in future.
Bill Banks, the authority's director of resources management, said: “We're expecting to face pretty similar challenges in 2007-8 and 2008-9 in finding efficiencies.
“For the last four years we've had relatively good settlements. What we're looking at now is a period where they will be less good than what they have been.
“Clearly it's not good news but at least we know well in advance what the situation is going to be and can start to put some longer term plans in place.”
The council has already been told it will receive a grant increase of £6.4m for 2007-8.
Jeremy Pembroke, leader of the council, welcomed the switch to a more long-term plan.
He said: “This business of doing it every year is debilitating, very exhausting and hugely time consuming.
“In the spring we'll start planning three years ahead. If we can do that, I think we'll be able to mitigate some of the future changes that are inevitable.”
Mr Pembroke believed this year's tax rise was unavoidable.
He said: “I made the pledge we would keep the council tax down as low as possible and 4.5% is the lowest we could go.
“But there are going to be reductions in services we've enjoyed up to now. That's absolutely inevitable. The only way we could've prevented that was if the Government gave us £28m rather than £4m.”
Reg Hartles, chairman of the Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, criticised the increase. “I'm very disappointed because it's not far off the capping figure of 5%. Double the rate of inflation is not acceptable, and the Tory party locally seem to have forgotten their promises regarding keeping it down to inflation,” he said.
He said the authority should continue to pressure central Government for increased funding for council services.
The county council, along with five other authorities, has written to the Government outlining their concerns about the settlement.
Mr Pembroke said it is still awaiting a response and added: “The silence has been deafening.”
Last night Ian Hartley, of East Suffolk Mind, said while the u-turn in the proposal to reduce grants to voluntary organisations was welcome, it would not directly impact his charity.
He said it relies on funding to provide services to the council, which are still subject to cuts.
The budget proposals will be discussed at a meeting of Suffolk County Council's cabinet on February 2.
They are expected to be rubber-stamped at a full council meeting on February 21.
Council tax band 2005-6 (£) 2006-7 (£)
A 631.98 660.42
B 737.31 770.49
C 842.64 880.56
D 947.97 990.63
E 1,158.63 1,210.77
F 1,369.29 1,430.91
G 1,579.95 1,651.05
H 1,895.94 1,981.26