Government grant prompts fury

THE Government was last night accused of short-changing Suffolk after it received an annual grant which will spark £22million of county council cutbacks.

THE Government was last night accused of short-changing Suffolk after it received an annual grant which will spark £22million of county council cutbacks.

But the Conservative-controlled council was criticised by Labour MP Chris Mole, who questioned whether the spending pressures on Suffolk were worse than anywhere else.

He said the council should either stop moaning about its Government grant or take action to get it changed.

His comments came after the Department for Communities and Local Government revealed that Suffolk County Council's formula grant has risen by 5.3% from £126.527million to £133.2m for 2007/08.


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This increase was above the English local authority rate of 3.8% and the shire areas average of 4%, which includes district and borough councils.

Although the figure was roughly what the council had expected, the grant is not high enough to offer a last minute reprieve to the services earmarked for cutbacks earlier in the year.

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Jane Storey, portfolio holder for resources, finance and performance, said the authority would be “deluding” itself if it thought much bigger grant increases would be given the next year, meaning more savings could have to be made in the future.

She said: “This is not good news - it leaves us some £22m short for next year before any council tax increase, which is broadly in line with what we were expecting.

“We have plans to cover most of this by changes to the way we deliver services. However there will be an impact on services in some areas, as we will have to choose between what we want to do and what we can afford.

“This level of funding only confirms that central government is failing to understand what local people need from local government.

“Nonetheless we will do what we were elected to do and that is to run the council as efficiently as possible.”

Reg Hartles, chairman of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said he blamed the need for the controversial multi-million pound savings 90% on the Government.

He added: “The Government are very cunning. They threaten us with capping if the council puts up the council tax too much but then they tighten the screw.

“This is making life more and more difficult for the council - £22million is a hell of a lot of money and a lot of worthy causes will suffer for this.”

The Government moved to two-year funding plans last year, enabling Local Government Minister Phil Woolas to maintain the settlement contained “no surprises” for local authorities.

He said the “stable, predictable and adequate” funding package would enable councils to keep the tax rise to less than 5%.

But the Tories warned the average council tax bill could hit £1,500 by the end of Labour's third

term in office.

Mr Mole, MP for Ipswich, said Suffolk County Council's rise was 1.3% above average, not including the grant given to schools.

He said: “It doesn't sound to me that they (the county council) are properly scrutinising what they are claiming are the pressures on their budgets because it cannot be the case that they have got massively different increases in their costs compared to everywhere else in the country and if they have they should be making a case to the minister about it.

“But neither last year nor this year have they taken such action.”

A report on the government settlement will be presented to the next council Cabinet meeting on Tuesday December 19.

On February 6, the Cabinet will make its final budget recommendations to full council and the level of council tax and budget for 2007/08 will be set on February 22.

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