Council taxpayers face 5% rise from Suffolk as further cuts also loom
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk is preparing to increase its element of council tax bills by nearly 5% from April as the authority continues to wrestle with the effects of austerity.
It is set to put up basic council tax by the maximum allowed by government without triggering a local referendum – 1.99% – while also increasing its social care precept by 3% to allow it to pay more for people needing residential care.
It means that the occupants of a Band B home – the most numerous in Suffolk – will be paying an extra £46 to the county council next year. District/borough, parish(in most of Suffolk), and police figures are all added into the total council tax bill.
The rises will not prevent the county council from still needing to make savings of £27m during 2018/19. It plans to cut services by just under £24m and find the rest of the money needed by taking money out of reserves.
Cabinet member for finance Richard Smith said the increases were necessary because the level of government support to councils was continuing to fall.
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The government was expecting councils to increase what they charged – and most people he spoke to accepted the need to pay more.
But the rise is likely to be more than the rate of inflation, which currently stands at 3%.
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The largest cuts are set to be in the Adult and Community Services department of the council which is the largest single element of its expenditure – that is expected to see a cut of £11m in its total budget which stood at £229m for the current year (although it is expected to overspend by nearly £2.5m).
This saving should come from efficiencies and changing the way care is given – not cuts to front-line services.
Mr Smith said: “We are working with the NHS to try to enable more people to stay in their own homes or to return to their own homes after a hospital stay.
“The amount we are spending on this care is increasing – and the extra 3% goes towards increasing the amount we spend on social care, especially ensuring staff receive the increased National Living Wage.”
The increase is to be discussed by members of the council’s scrutiny committee. The budget will then go to a cabinet meeting in January before it is debated at full council in February – allowing changes to come in from April.
Opposition fears more service cuts as Suffolk unveils proposed budget
The proposed new county council budget sparked concerns that services could face more cuts over the next 12 months.
Labour group leader Sandra Gage was concerned about the possibility of service cuts, especially to adult care.
She said: “An £11m cut to adult care services will decimate this council’s ability to deliver high quality effective care provision. This cut will only lead to a worse service, poorer care and an increased likelihood that the most vulnerable in society will fall through the safety net that this council should provide.
“The cuts to subsidised transport, whilst they may be small, will have an enormous impact above and beyond the £150k that the council will save. It is disgusting that the Conservative administration can think that by removing £11m from the care system and decreasing opportunities for the elderly to get out and about they are providing anything other than public services on the cheap.”
The leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green, and Independent group David Wood said it was clear that the most vulnerable would continue to suffer despite the council tax increase.
He said: “There will still be cuts to adult services – and more rural isolation caused by the loss of bus services. It is a budget to affect the vulnerable, the elderly and the needy most of all.”
And Green Party councillor Andrew Stringer added: “They have been saying for years how they have frozen council tax. If they had had sensible small increases in previous years there would have been no need for a 5% rise now.
Cuts to adult care and transport on the cards in proposed Suffolk budget
As well as the proposed cuts to the adult care services budget, other areas of the county council are also likely to be hit if the budget is passed.
The county’s highways service is set to lose £1m – about £300,000 will come from reductions to the winter gritting service.
This would mean than the temperature that will trigger the fleet of gritters going out at night will fall by half a degree celsius – and some of the smallest routes currently served would no longer be included on the gritting runs.
The council is also looking to make a further £150,000 reduction in subsidies to rural buses. This follows cuts to services on the Shotley peninsula and proposed changes in the Eye area which were eventually reversed after an outcry in some villages that would have lost their services.
The fire service is not facing further changes but is expected to save £50,000 through its shared facilities with the police.