Goverment warning on council tax rise

SUFFOLK Police Authority's bid to raise its share of council tax bills by 7% is unlikely to be given the go-ahead, the Government has warned.The authority said last week the proposed hike in its council tax precept was needed to maintain police services at their current level.

SUFFOLK Police Authority's bid to raise its share of council tax bills by 7% is unlikely to be given the go-ahead, the Government has warned.

The authority said last week the proposed hike in its council tax precept was needed to maintain police services at their current level.

But the Government has written to authority chairman Christine Laverock, insisting it will not tolerate council tax rises above 5% and would cap any higher increases.

The warning came after Mrs Laverock asked for an "unequivocal indication" that the Home Office would accept the authority's proposed rise "to sustain the high level of performance achieved in Suffolk".


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The authority chairman said its "hands had been tied" by the Government and now fears that lack of funds could lead to "extremely difficult and risky" cutbacks in the future.

Mrs Laverock said that the situation was made even worse because the Government was also calling on police authorities to make further savings of 1.5% on operational costs in the coming financial year.

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"Although we can find the savings in 2005/06 beyond then will be extremely difficult and risky, compounded by the fact that the government are tying our hands over council tax increases," she said.

"In the end they will become cutbacks and not savings. We don't want to reduce police officers but it's a risk we face if we have to keep finding savings year after year.

"The difficulty we face is that because Suffolk Constabulary is continually judged as one of the best performing forces in the country it is harder and harder for us to maintain that high standard while still trying to cut costs.

"We have met the requirement in previous years without a dip in performance levels but we can't keep finding savings year after year without it affecting our future performance levels."

Mrs Laverock urged the Government either to increase the floor level in the final settlement given to the force in 2005/06 or show leniency towards the authority's proposed council tax rise.

But Paul Harnby, from the police resources unit of the Home Office, replied in a letter: "You have referred to a possible increase of 7% in the police precept on council tax next year. The Government has made its position on capping very clear an expects to see national average council tax increases of less than 5%."

Previously, authority leaders had been sent a letter by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which read: "We expect all local authorities to budget prudently and that the average council tax increase in England will be less than 5%.

"We are prepared to take tougher capping action than we did is 2004/05 to deal with excessive budgets. This apples to all authorities, including police and fire authorities."

Last night, a spokesperson for the Home Office said that the amount made available for policing in Suffolk for the upcoming year would be sufficient to maintain high levels of service.

"The total funding for policing in Suffolk for 2005/06 is £68.5million, an increase of 3.75 per cent. With this funding, good financial management and efficiency improvements, Suffolk police will be able to deliver national and local priorities within a reasonable increase in the police precept, which is added to council tax," they said.

"I am confident that this level of resourcing will allow the police service to meet the high standards expected by the public and provide a service that is responsible to local needs, visible and available in the neighbourhood.

"Law and order is a top priority for the Government and the £750 million increase in national funding for policing next year ensures that the police will have the resources they need to tackle crime."

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