Felixstowe: MP invited for talks on referendum fury


Felixstowe. - Credit: Archant

Community leaders strongly opposed to proposals to curb their spending are inviting their MP to meet them for talks.

Town councillors in Felixstowe are angry at a Bill presented to parliament which would force any town or parish council proposing to raise its council tax by more than 2% to hold a referendum.

MPs keen to control spending believe the public should have chance to vote on whether their council should be increasing its budget.

However, a referendum could cost tens of thousands of pounds more than the money the council was trying to raise in the first place – and it would also have to increase the precept further to pay for the public vote.

If Felixstowe Town Council was to increase its £508,420 budget by 2%, it would generate £10,168.

A referendum could cost £30,000 to approve or reject that sum.

In smaller communities, a 2% rise of a budget of just a few thousand pounds would only raise a few hundred pounds.

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Councillors agreed to set up a meeting to discuss the issue with Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, one of the sponsors of the Referendum Bill.

Councillor Andy Smith said: “Councils like ourselves are being encouraged to campaign against this Bill, which is anathema and the converse of what the Government claims to be localism.

“To raise our budget by 2% would not be a lot of money for us. How much would a referendum cost? Somewhere between £20,000 and £40,000 in Felixstowe.

“It doesn’t make sense. We must vigorously campaign against this.”

Chris Slemmings, chairman of the council’s finance and general purposes committee, said the Bill was daft and if a referendum was needed very few councils would be able to afford it.

Councillor Doreen Savage said: “One of the things we are being urged to do is to work with the localism agenda and I am afraid this Bill seriously undermines and hinders our ability to do so.

“It is anti-localism and doesn’t make any kind of sense whatsoever.”

The town council has taken on some of the work previously carried out by Suffolk Coastal – which the district council has cut – and expects to take over more such responsibilities.

Presenting the Bill, Kris Hopkins, Conservative MP for Keighley, said some parish councils had this year raised precepts by as much as 73%.

He said: “Parish and town councils do not have an accountable body, so we have a duty to ensure that the public have a say in any rise in the precept, and a clear understanding of why that rise has been introduced.

“Many people are struggling, and we should make every effort, however small individually, to reduce the demands on the household purse.”