Suffolk finance boss quits after row over county council tax bills

Suffolk county councillor Richard Smith Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Suffolk county councillor Richard Smith Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL - Credit: Suffolk County Council

Suffolk County Council leader Matthew Hicks has been forced into a major reshuffle when his finance chief quit – days after a Tory debate over plans to raise council tax by 4% next year.

Richard Smith had been cabinet member for finance for more than four years but resigned late on Monday after Conservative councillors backed plans for the largest possible council tax rise next year.

A group meeting of Conservatives last week was asked to choose between a 0%, 1% or 2% rise in general council tax bills next year - on top of a 2% rise to pay for social care.

We understand that the councillors immediately rejected the option of a general council tax freeze - but Mr Smith argued forcefully that the general rise should not be more than 1%.

He told them he would not be prepared to recommend an increase above that figure. However other councillors warned that the government was expecting councils to increase general bills, and by keeping down the increase there would either have to be deeper cuts to services or there could be a greater risk to the authority's viability in the long term.

A majority of Conservative councillors backed calls to raise general bills by 2% - a total of a 4% rise when added to the social care surcharge.

After Mr Smith resigned, he was replaced as finance spokesman by Cabinet Member for Young People Gordon Jones.

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Deputy council leader Mary Evans takes on Mr Jones' former portfolio and her role as Cabinet member for Roads and Transport is taken on by Andrew Reid. There are other changes of responsibility involving Nick Gowrley and Richard Rout. Mr Smith said he had resigned over "a matter of policy" but would not go into any further details.

Mr Hicks said: "I want to thank Richard Smith for his time as cabinet member for finance. He has made an outstanding contribution in ensuring we manage our finances in a measured, effective and prudent way."

Although he had not planned the reshuffle, Mr Hicks felt he now had a strong team to take the council forward into budget discussions over the next few months - and to lead investment decisions on major projects like the Third River Crossing in Lowestoft.

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