Leader calls for Council Tax abolition

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorSUFFOLK is demanding an end to Council Tax as county councillors desperately battle to keep next year's rise in single figures.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

SUFFOLK is demanding an end to Council Tax as county councillors desperately battle to keep next year's rise in single figures.

Having hiked this year's Council Tax bills by a record-breaking 18.5% in April, Suffolk County Council's hopes of a lower rise next year depend largely on the amount of cash support given by Whitehall.

In a direct appeal to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, council leader Bryony Rudkin said: “Making small changes to the grant formulae is not enough.

“There is a need to tackle the range of problems associated with local accountability, including the unfair burden on people with low and low fixed incomes.”

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Suffolk County Council has embarked on a number of efficiency savings and other initiatives to save money.

But the harsh reality is that if the Government cash handout - to be announced before Christmas - is less than 5%, householders will be facing a huge rise in next year's Council Tax.

Mrs Rudkin, leader of the Labour-Liberal Democrat-controlled county council, has written to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to ask for a change in the way local government finance is funded, including the abolition of Council Tax to be replaced by “a new funding system for councils”.

Although she stopped short of calling for local income tax, the favoured alternative of the Lib Dems, Mrs Rudkin told Mr Prescott: “The current system of local government finance produces annual increases in Council Tax that are too high.

“Any system that produces a 4% increase in Council Tax for every 1% increase in local authority spending - the so-called 'gearing effect' - must be wrong.

“Nobody can be happy with the present local government finance system. It is outdated and needs to change to reflect the changing role of local councils as community leaders and their power to promote well-being.”

Mrs Rudkin wants to protect pensioners and other people on low or fixed incomes from Council Tax rises that are way above inflation.

“Tax needs to be fair in terms of ability to pay and should be comparable between authorities in terms of tax paid and level of service received,” she said.

Mrs Rudkin also called for local government to take back responsibility for collecting business rates.

Jeremy Pembroke, the Conservative opposition leader on the council, agreed business rates should be returned to the county and added ways should be sought to mitigate the Council Tax burden for pensioners and people on fixed incomes.

But he warned Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors: “Whatever rise they impose, the people of Suffolk will never forget who raised tax this year by 18.5%.

“Tax in this county has risen by 45% in the past four years ­- enough is enough.”

graham.dines@eadt.co.uk

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