Survey reveals county's council tax fear
COUNCIL tax campaigners last night urged budget bosses to “listen to the public” by keeping tax rises to a minimum next year.They were speaking after a major survey revealed almost three quarters of residents across Suffolk believe the council's priority in budget discussions should be to set low council tax increases in 2006/07.
By Danielle Nuttall
COUNCIL tax campaigners last night urged budget bosses to “listen to the public” by keeping tax rises to a minimum next year.
They were speaking after a major survey revealed almost three quarters of residents across Suffolk believe the council's priority in budget discussions should be to set low council tax increases in 2006/07.
Financial chiefs have pledged to do all they can to keep council tax down, but admit they face a challenging year, with a poor budget settlement expected from the Government.
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Speaking last night, Betty Bone, Sudbury representative of the campaign group Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk (PACTS), said she was prepared to go to prison if her council tax bill exceeded £100 per month next year.
“If it goes over the £100 mark, I will not pay the extra. I'm quite prepared to go to prison instead,” she declared.
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And the pensioner doubted whether the county council would keep council tax rises to a minimum, even if the public had demanded it.
“When we handed over the petition two years ago they continued with an 18.5% rise. It didn't stop them,” she said.
“It's very important to keep it low especially for pensioners. We cannot go and work overtime to help pay for the council tax. There's no way elderly people can manage to fund extra money every year.
“Really and truly it's central government that's at fault. There's no doubt about it, the extra money last year was an election ploy. They should listen to the public.”
Under the Your Money, Your Say consultation, the council surveyed 1,382 people from 12 Suffolk towns and asked them to select the three most important issues to them in relation to next year's budget.
A total of 1,000 of the votes expressed a desire for low council tax increases to be prioritised.
Reg Hartles, chairman of PACTS, said: “Certainly council tax must be carefully monitored and we should not be looking at increases above inflation.
“Let's not forget the 18.5% built into out tax for ever more. I'm glad the general public agree. Without doubt, they should listen to the public.
“They have been voted into their position by the public and, particularly on this very crippling tax for a lot of people, they should listen. I'm hoping the Government will listen as well and take note.”
Cllr Jane Storey, portfolio holder for resources, finance and performance, said the council would not know the settlement it had been allocated by the Government until the end of November at the earliest and therefore could not speculate on likely rises.
But she warned: “We are not expecting a very favourable settlement at all. It will be quite a challenge.
“The budget consultation was part of the planning and we needed to know what people in the county of Suffolk thought of as priorities.
“Last year they (the Government) gave every council a large sum to keep council tax down. It would be cynical for me to say it was down to the election but we are not expecting any extra money this year.
“We are going to try and save services and keep council tax low which is not an easy option. It will be quite challenging to do both.”
Ms Storey said the council would consider immediate lobbying of parliament as soon as the settlement was announced in a bid to secure more funding.
The consultation allowed people to place their votes in a ball that was inserted into a plastic 'opinion pole' during special roadshows.
The second most popular issue indicated by residents was school funding, which attracted 17% of the votes, followed by environment (16%) and 15% for supporting vulnerable people.
The council's cabinet will look over the results and comments taken when considering the budget in January.
Anyone who did get the chance to visit one of the roadshows can still have their say by visiting www.suffolkcc.gov.uk .
Meanwhile, an outline framework for how Suffolk will be run over the next four years has been released by the county council.
The framework, which will be discussed at a cabinet meeting at the end of the month, includes the re-shaping of services to produce better results and includes improvements in service delivery and high quality transport.
Name of town and date Roads Community Safety Supporting vulnerable people Level of council tax Environment Schools Total:
Bury St Edmunds 10/09/05 95 14% 98 14% 99 15% 133 20% 124 18% 129 19% 678
Stowmarket 15/09/05 23 17% 16 12% 25 19% 33 25% 18 14% 17 13% 132
Leiston 16/09/05 50 14% 40 12% 54 16% 85 24% 64 18% 55 16% 348
Hadleigh 20/09/05 20 18% 16 14% 25 23% 20 18% 15 14% 15 14% 111
Eye 21/09/05 51 16% 33 10% 66 21% 61 19% 60 19% 47 15% 318
Ipswich 25/09/05 44 10% 55 12% 82 19% 48 11% 112 26% 94 22% 435
Haverhill 27/09/05 27 14% 39 20% 20 10% 65 33% 24 12% 20 10% 195
Brandon 29/09/05 72 20% 46 13% 46 13% 11 312% 38 11% 43 12% 357
Beccles 30/09/05 37 16% 35 15% 25 11% 81 35% 27 27% 29 12% 234