Have your say on council budgets

By Jonathan Barnes and James HoreTODAY the East Anglian Daily Times is giving you the chance to tell council bosses how to spend your money.The EADT is declaring War on Council Waste and is asking readers to suggest ways their local authorities can save cash.

By Jonathan Barnes and James Hore

TODAY the East Anglian Daily Times is giving you the chance to tell council bosses how to spend your money.

The EADT is declaring War on Council Waste and is asking readers to suggest ways their local authorities can save cash.

Councils across the whole region are struggling with tight budgets and are under pressure not to impose another huge rise in Council Tax.

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The financial situation in Suffolk is precarious with the county council and seven borough and district councils reeling from below-inflation rises in their Government grants.

Suffolk County Council said it needed an extra £29million from the Government to maintain its services, but got just £21m.

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There are fears funding deficits will see taxpayers hit in the pocket with another big hike in Council Tax, with householders facing rises of about 10%, following on from last year's record-breaking 18.5% increase.

Council finance bosses said they would have to work harder to make savings to balance their books - particularly as the Government said it would not tolerate Council Tax rises of more than 10%.

Tendring District Council will get £9.7m next year, a rise of about 2.6%, but well below what it needed to avoid huge tax rises.

That means Council Tax bills in the district could rise by at least 30%, leaving it facing the real possibility of becoming the first local authority in Essex to be capped by the Government.

Council leaders said last night they would consider any ideas put forward and welcomed any feedback from the public.

Bryony Rudkin, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “It's important that people have their say and we look forward to hearing from people across the county about what they think we should do.”

Peter Gardiner, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, added: “It's important that people have the opportunity to put their views forward and we would be happy to consider them.

“When we are in this sort of financial situation, we have to think long and hard about how it affects people.

“If there are things we provide which people no longer want or any other ways in which they think we are wasting money, we would like to hear about it.”

John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said: “We are looking at all ways to lighten the burden on Council Tax payers and would more than welcome any constructive suggestions.”

Roger Saunders, leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, added: “We would welcome some input from the public and I'm sure they will come up with some good ideas.

“It would be helpful if people told us which services they can't do without and the ones they could, rather than paying more Council Tax to cover the cost.”

Reg Hartles, chairman of the Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, pledged support to the campaign.

“I'm sure people will have plenty of ideas where councils can save money - it definitely needs to be done,” he said.

“There are several examples when we have seen councils wasting money and they can't afford to do that at the moment.”

Colchester pensioner Tony Constable, who felt driven to campaign against Council Tax hikes after last year's increase of 16.5%, said savings could easily be made at the Town Hall.

“They didn't do themselves any favours when they raised our taxes and then increased their own allowances by 60%,” he said.

“I was collecting signatures on my petition against the Council Tax increase and getting around 85 a day. The day after they raised their own allowances I suddenly found myself getting around 200 signatures a day.”

Mr Constable, 71, of Margaret Road, also felt the amount of money spent on hiring outside consultants was “inexcusable”.

Colin Sykes, leader of Colchester Borough Council, said it had brought in

specialists because it made sense financially to have them in for just the time

they were needed on a particular topic.

“We have not got spare staff sat around here doing nothing. If we had experts

in house, we would use them,” he added.

“Remember, the pay increases were recommended by an independent body which compared Colchester to a lot of other councils.”

EADT Editor, Terry Hunt, said: “This is not a political issue for us. We are fighting to make sure that every hard-earned penny that people have to pay in Council Tax is properly used.

“We believe that there are economies and efficiencies that councils of all political colours must make to keep the increases down.

“We know that our readers have very strong views on this and we are sure that they will respond vigorously to this campaign with some great ideas.

“We will also be looking closely at councils' budgets ourselves and there may well be some difficult questions to be answered by those in the corridors of power in the coming weeks and months.”

n Readers can suggest ideas in writing to War on Council Waste, EADT Newsdesk, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, by telephone on 01473 324737, by fax to 01473 211391 or by email at eadt.newsdesk@eadt.co.uk.

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