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Will charges be introduced for free services at Suffolk County Council?

PUBLISHED: 07:30 24 July 2019 | UPDATED: 08:54 24 July 2019

Suffolk County Council Conservative cabinet member for finances Richard Smith said there were no plans to introduce charges for free services.  Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Suffolk County Council Conservative cabinet member for finances Richard Smith said there were no plans to introduce charges for free services. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Suffolk County Council

Free council services such as libraries, archive access and recycling centres are not being eyed for charges to be introduced, finance chiefs have said.

Independent councillor David Nettleton questioned whether a task group could be formed to look at means of not dipping into reserves. Picture: MARIAM GHAEMIIndependent councillor David Nettleton questioned whether a task group could be formed to look at means of not dipping into reserves. Picture: MARIAM GHAEMI

Suffolk County Council last year overspent by £4.4million despite belt-tightening cutbacks, as funding from central government continues to be squeezed.

The overspend had to be covered from the council's reserves, which Conservative cabinet member for finance Richard Smith said was not sustainable long term.

However, at Thursday's full council meeting Mr Smith confirmed there were no plans to introduce charges for services that were currently free.

"At present there are no plans to introduce charges for services that are free at the point of use," he said.

"In many cases the council's ability to charge for services is limited by statute.

"However the council investigates continually any new opportunities to increase the amount which is generated from existing income streams and is always looking for new ways of generating further income.

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"Furthermore, many of the council's existing income streams are constrained by national thresholds and legislation.

"The council also needs to remain competitive when levying charges so that potential income is not lost.

"Where charges for services are applicable, these are reviewed regularly and increases need to be both reasonable and within statutory limits."

Among the free services are book borrowing at libraries, access to information at Suffolk's record offices, disposing of most kinds of waste at recycling centres and applying for school places.

Mr Smith pointed to latest audit reports where auditors said they were "satisfied that the authority's general fund reserve balance at the 31 March 2022 will remain about the authority's approved minimal level".

Independent councillor David Nettleton said: "My concern here is that you are giving a warning here about going into reserves and using those on a year by year basis, which you quite rightly say is not sustainable, but there doesn't seem to be long term strategy here to look at other services which we are currently as a free good is offered to the community which may be capable of charging where the county council has the ability to do so.

"We have got this problem in cutting government funding - all councils are being squeezed, I understand the problem there.

"I am just a bit concerned that we are not coming up with ideas and there could be a forum at this council of thinking of innovative ways of raising more income that we previously didn't have."

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