Cuts ahead of lowest council tax rise

THE price of Suffolk's lowest ever council tax rise was revealed last night with cuts in some services and changes in the way others are delivered.Suffolk County Council's budget blueprint aims to save £12.

THE price of Suffolk's lowest ever council tax rise was revealed last night with cuts in some services and changes in the way others are delivered.

Suffolk County Council's budget blueprint aims to save £12.2 million in the next year and will see a 'handful' of jobs axed.

Councillors from the joint Labour and Liberal Democrat run council said they had made "tough choices" to produce a 3.8% rise.

The increase, which is above the current rate of inflation, will add 51p a week to a band B property making a figure of £719.04 a year, and does not include the additional charge from local councils and Suffolk Police Authority.

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But Jeremy Pembroke, leader of the county Conservative group, blasted the savings, questioning why they could not have been made last year.

The cuts come after the council was criticised when increased council tax by 18.5% last year.

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Every department, except schools, has had to cut spending by 2% and, with the redirection of resources from non-statutory areas to frontline services, a total of £8.7million has been slashed from the budget.

Massive savings have also been made by changing the way the council gives car allowances - slashing £2million, and its purchasing policies – cutting back £1.5million.

David Rowe, who has responsibility for the budget, said: "We are in a position that the figure of 3.8% is shown to be low when you actually look at what other comparative authorities are setting, for example Norfolk and Essex.

"It is the lowest increase in the region for a county council but to get there has not been an easy decision. We have had to make some quite tough decisions on how we get this figure."

He said that the council had "taken note" of the feedback it had received from council taxpayers across the county and added that the council was "determined not to make it a budget of cuts and a knee-jerk reaction".

Bryony Rudkin, leader of the council, said: "We know that people and communities will be affected by some of the changes we are making. This may not be entirely negative – for example, tackling difficult behaviour in schools can have a positive effect for the whole community.

"We know that people will find some of the measures we are taking difficult."

Tony Lewis, who has responsibility for children and young people, announced that the council had secured a £3.1million grant from the Department for Education and Skills.

Charges would be introduced for denominational school transport and joint-use sports centres that are not visited often would have reduced or no funding, he said.

Over the next three years about £1.4million of the money saved will go towards a service to help support pupils who have social or behavioural difficulties.

Ray Nowak, who has responsibility for human resources, said that a "handful" of redundancies would be made at the council and long-term vacancies would not be filled.

Staff will also be charged for car parking when the council moves to its new premises at Endeavour House, and some country parks will charge for parking.

In social care, the council will save money on expensive agency placements for children and the specialist needs of people with learning disabilities will be met locally.

Mr Pembroke said: "My reaction to the £12.2million savings is 'if it was possible this year why wasn't it possible last year or indeed the year before?'

"If the 2% efficiency savings were obtainable two years ago why reduce these by 1% last year and then put them back to 2%? That is a saving of millions.

"If there is a £2million saving on car allowances then they are spending an awful lot on cars.

"They have still yet to tackle the overall costs of delivering the service. That is what they have got to get to grips with."

He added: "The government has given them a subsidy to keep council tax down but there is no promise that they will be given that next year. They have also got £2million from the tax of second homes."

He said that the council had "utterly underestimated" the effect of last year's hike and that the 3.8% would be on top of that, meaning that the rate had risen by 30% in the last three years while state pensions had increased by only 11% in that time.

The budget will next be discussed at a full council meeting on February 24.

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