Council seek to freeze council tax to ease pain for households

East Suffolk Council is going to vote on not increasing council tax next year.

East Suffolk Council have been ordered to pay £200 following a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation. - Credit: East Suffolk Council

A vote is set to take place on whether or not to freeze council tax in East Suffolk next year after the council said it wanted to share residents' financial pain in the wake of coronavirus.

Following a Scrutiny Committee meeting in which only two members voted against the proposal not to increase bills for householders, the whole of East Suffolk Council will now vote on budget. If it is approved, East Suffolk will be the only district council in the county not increase their precept.

Introducing the report to the scrutiny committee, Councillor Maurice Cook, committee member for resources, said: "This report presents a draft general fund budget for 2021-22, and the updated medium term financial strategy as of January 2021.

"This report presents a balanced financial position for the current year and for 2021-22, this has been achieved by the use of reserves.

"Covid-19 has presented significant additional financial challenges to the council and the outlook is very uncertain at this stage for both next year and for the medium term.

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"However, the council's robust reserve position enables it to meet these challenges ... while at the same freeze its element of the council tax for 2021-22."

East Suffolk council has had to dip into its reserves in order to produce a balanced budget — as it is required to do by law.

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The report is significantly longer and more detailed than in previous years, Councillor Cook said this was due to the increased financial complexity caused by the pandemic.

Brian Mew, the council's chief finance officer, said much of the coronavirus support funding did not show on the councils budget as it was merely acting as an agent for the government in distributing the funds.

Councillor Linda Coulam questioned whether not raising council tax was a good idea as it meant that receipts would be lower.

Councillor Cook responded that the council felt it should share the "pain" residents are experiencing, if the council's finances would allow.

He also pointed out that the council had made significant savings elsewhere, including by not spending £310,000 on travel expenses due to the pandemic.

When questioned whether it was prudent to use so much of the council's reserves — which Councillor David Beavan said were for a "rainy day" — Councillor Cook said the council was currently in the middle of a "rainy day".

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