Tax boost in council reshuffle

THE battle over the future of local Government in Suffolk looks set to become a bidding war after new claims that council tax bills could be cut by up to £250.

Graham Dines

THE battle over the future of local Government in Suffolk looks set to become a bidding war after new claims that council tax bills could be cut by up to £250.

Suffolk County Council said this week that its plan for a single, giant authority - replacing the district and borough council set-up - would save £85million in the first five years and cut council tax bills by at least £100 per Band D household.

But yesterday a report into the Boundary Committee for England's (BCE) proposal - for an Ipswich-Felixstowe council and a Suffolk Rural authority - claims even greater savings could be had.

It suggests that if the Government accepts the BCE plan, the amount saved by scrapping the county council and existing seven district authorities would total £68.6million after four years.

This would result in a council tax reduction in Ipswich of £253, with savings in Babergh of £145, Mid Suffolk £146, and Suffolk Coastal £133, it claims.

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The county council said on Wednesday that, under its plan for a single authority, residents would save £100 a year through lower tax bills, with average Band D properties in Ipswich being £125 better off.

The latest report has been prepared on the instructions of the BCE, which needs to know the financial implications of introducing unitary councils in Suffolk before making a final recommendation to the Government.

The working party, made up of councillors and officers from the existing county and districts, has calculated that an Ipswich-Felixstowe unitary - which has been given the working title of North Haven - would be able to reduce spending by £35.2m and for Suffolk Rural the savings would be £16.2m.

Ipswich council leader Liz Harsant, who chairs of the North Haven Unitary Board said: “It is clear that both our option and the single Suffolk council option will bring major savings.

“The financial statistics show that the variance is just half of one percent of a budget of £1 billion. So, with the financial case basically the same, the only difference between the two options is one of local democracy and economic progress.”

Waveney council has joined the war of words, as it fights on two fronts - trying to prevent Lowestoft being hived off into Norfolk and making a late bid for the county to be split into East Suffolk and West Suffolk.

Waveney's deputy leader Colin Law also questioned the county council's claims about savings.

He claimed: “We simply do not know where this figure comes from and it bears no relation to the net savings that a new unitary authority would generate. This £85m fails to take in to account the cost of reorganisation and the ongoing costs of running such an enormous local authority.”

The county council's chief executive Andrea Hill said on Wednesday that the financial case for “One Suffolk” was so powerful that the BCE would drop its proposal.

She said: “The single council for Suffolk presents best value for local people. It will make huge savings that will be invested into local services and gives £18million back to the community.”

Meanwhile, the BCE has said it is prepared to be flexible on its deadline of September 26 for public submissions on its proposals.

As well as giving the public more time to have their say, it will allow parish councils to meet and give their verdicts on whether the county should have a single Suffolk unitary or go with the two councils alternative.

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