Suffolk County Council could increase tax precept for first time in five years in wake of the Autumn Statement
- Credit: PA
Chancellor George Osborne said councils could put up council tax bills by an extra 2% if the increase was reserved to cover social care costs as he delivered his Autumn Statement today..
Councils are already permitted to increase bills by 1.999% before triggering a local referendum.
In 2013 the Conservatives retained power in Suffolk with a pledge to freeze the county’s element of council tax bills until 2017.
However new council leader Colin Noble said the announcements in the July budget and yesterday’s statement could prompt a rethink to specifically support social care.
He said that the announcement in July about the National Living Wage would put £6million on the council’s costs for social care – which had come as an unexpected extra expense.An extra 2% on council tax bills would bring in just under £5m.
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Mr Noble said: “We certainly plan to honour our pledge of freezing council tax for general expenditure, but we do need to consider this particular issue as it was specifically flagged up by the Chancellor.
“We support the introduction of the national living wage but it does bring an extra cost and it is something we need to talk about before we come back to before the final budget is published for cabinet in January.”
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Consultations would continue with councillors and the community as a whole – starting with today’s meeting of the scrutiny committee which will start the process of looking at the budget proposals.
Official opposition leader Sandy Martin (Labour) said it would be right for the authority to increase its element of council tax bills to ensure it was able to fully fund improvements to social care.
Recently a care home in Ipswich had been forced to close – and he feared a similar fate could await other homes if there was not sufficient funding. Mr Martin said: “Residents deserve to get first-class care from staff who are paid decently,” he added.
What else did the Chancellor have to say in his spending review? See below for details.
The Chancellor’s promise that the transport infrastructure budget would be increased by 50% should be good news for East Anglian rail travellers – but the pressure needs to be kept up, according to Ipswich MP Ben Gummer.
Mr Gummer said the statement should ensure that Network Rail would be able complete the improvements it had planned over the current five-year period on the Great Eastern Main Line.
But the transformation of the region’s main rail line would only be completed if this work carried on beyond 2019.
Mr Gummer said: “We do have a commitment for new trains in the new rail franchise (starting next year) and that is a major requirement. But we do have to keep up the pressure on Network Rail and the Department for Transport to ensure that further infrastructure improvements are completed between 2019 and 2024. They are needed to really make the rail services more reliable.”
The improvements between 2019 and 2024 would include building a relief track for several miles north of Chelmsford, and rebuilding Haughley junction – where the Cambridge line meets the main Norwich to London line.
The Chancellor’s announcement of a new funding formula for schools has been welcomed by MPs from across Suffolk.
They say it should lead to nearly £180 a year being spent on every school pupil across the county.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter has been calling on the Government to deliver a fairer funding model for schools based on pupil need and recently signed an open letter asking the Government to reform the formula.
The new funding formula announced will set a national rate that every school will receive for each pupil, with additional funding for those with extra needs.
Crucially, from 2017-2018 onwards the resources schools and local authorities will receive will be based on pupil need rather than a historical calculation which was open to political manipulation.
Dr Poulter said he was “delighted” by the change and added: “Our children and grandchildren studying in Suffolk’s schools should continue to have access to the best resources, buildings, and teaching as possible and this commitment by the Government is a big step in the right direction.” Ipswich MP Ben Gummer also welcomed the news – as did Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey.
However the leader of the Labour group at Suffolk County Council, Sandy Martin, was suspicious about the announcement.
He said: “I’m not going to say we should not have fair funding but I do have concerns about average funding which does not look at the needs of all schools.
“I’m not sure this will necessarily address that.”
Dr Poulter, Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill and South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge are still to join with colleagues to deliver petitions for fairer funding from more than 100 constituencies to the House of Commons next week.
The Police and Crime Commissioners from Suffolk and Essex both welcomed the news that there would be no further cuts to their budgets following the Chancellor’s statement.
Suffolk Constabulary is currently working to deliver savings of £20.5million by March 2020. A range of projects are under way to bridge the funding gap.
Suffolk PCC Tim Passmore said, “I am really pleased to hear the Chancellor’s announcement that there will be no real-term cuts in police budgets. This is really good news for Suffolk.
“We still face challenges ahead but this news is much better than we expected.
“We will now have to spend time going through the detail to see exactly how this announcement will impact on our future budget but I am assured that this is good news for Suffolk.”
Suffolk’s Temporary Chief Constable Gareth Wilson said: “We still have a significant challenge ahead of us as we work to deliver savings already required and we will be working to ensure that as we re-design our policing services, we do all we can to ensure that we deliver the best possible service to our communities.”
Essex PCC Nick Alston said: “I and others have been lobbying the Home Secretary (Theresa May) hard in recent weeks with concerns over the levels of cuts to police funding we had been told to expect.
“I didn’t doubt that the Government would listen carefully to what PCCs and Chief Officers have been saying but I am delighted that it has responded by keeping the overall budget for policing at the present level through to 2020 and that it is giving some of us the freedom to lift the precept a little.”
Suffolk Police Federation chairman Matt Gould said: “Quite clearly we are relieved the cuts won’t be as bad as forecast..
“We have yet to make all the cuts from the last spending review.
“As far as we are concerned this is a better day than it could have been.”
Plans to close under-used courts to fund a £700million investment in new technology for the justice system will still go ahead, the chancellor has said.
Courts in Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds have been identified for potential closure, prompting concerns from local MPs about the impact on the area.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous, right, who has been campaigning against the closure of Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court, said it was clear the Government would still go ahead with a significant number of closures.
It was always clear they were going to go ahead with a substantial number, but he expected the final list to differ from the original list, and he hoped the Suffolk courts would be within those changes. He said the proposals in Suffolk would leave the administration of justice particularly stretched and increased inaccessibility was something that sill needed to be addressed.
The Treasury said there would be further consultation on the specifics of closures in due course.
How will the latest budget announcements affect you? Share your thoughts below or see tomorrow’s paper for more analysis.