Under fire

SUFFOLK councillors last nightcame under fire after revealing they are set to impose the county's lowest ever Council Tax increase – just 12 months after a controversial hike.

SUFFOLK councillors last nightcame under fire after revealing they are set to impose the county's lowest ever Council Tax increase – just 12 months after a controversial hike.

It has sparked questions as to why the council made no attempt to limit last year's record-breaking 18.5% rise, which lead to protests from pensioners and householders on fixed incomes.

Councillors confirmed they are seeking a 4% or lower rise, which would add £36 to the average Council Tax bill in Suffolk – but householders will have to wait to see how much extra district councils and the police authority will demand.

Betty Bone, of Pensioners Against Council Tax Suffolk (PACTS) said she was "mightily relieved" that the county council has realised it could no longer "go on spending other people's money."

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Mrs Bone added: "Predictions were that the rise would be 10%. The big question is – if the county can consider a low rise this year, why did it put us through financial misery this time.

West Suffolk's Tory MP Richard Spring, who has been one of the parliamentary campaign leaders against excessive Council Tax rises, welcomed the lower than expected increase but added: "This in no way absolves Suffolk county council from the massive 18.5% increase they inflicted on householders last year.

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"For the past five years, Suffolk has increased relentlessly its Council Tax demand. If the increase is 4%, it will still be twice the rate of inflation and means that for every one in every four weeks of state pension will go on Council Tax."

Mr Spring added: "Suffolk this year inflicted an 18.5% Council Tax rise on the county without a second glance. If it can make do with 4% next time, why could it not have do before."

The council's opposition Tory leader Jeremy Pembroke said the 4% rise had to be seen in the context of the previous two years when increases had been 11.9% and 18.5%.

"Suffolk may be hopeful of containing rises in future, but I believe the Chancellor's extra payment in the Autumn statement was a one-off payment because the Government was scared of an electoral backlash from voters at constantly rising household taxes."

David Rowe, Suffolk's council's resources portfolio holder, said the county had "listened to the concerns of residents" over the extent of last year's rise and had conducted a major review of its spending.

"A change in the way we buy outside goods and services will save us £1.5m and limiting all departments except schools to a 2% increase will save us £5m," said Mr Rowe.

"But the major factor has been the extra grant we received from the Government – £21m (5.7%) in November plus an extra £3m from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn statement.

"The previous year we suffered from a Whitehall decision to divert resources away from southern England to the north – this year that has not happened."

Mr Rowe added: "Council Tax payers told us they did not want another huge increase but wants schools and social care protected from cuts – we have achieved both objectives."

Although the county received favourable treatment from Gordon Brown, districts were less lucky, with most ending up with just a 2.3% rise in grant. Mid Suffolk has already announced a cut in services and job loses and

Ipswich is "struggling" to contain its council tax, says finance portfolio holder John Le Grys.

Although he predicted Ipswich's portion of the tax would rise by considerably less than 10%, he confirmed: "We have been very badly hit – even with the Chancellor's extra cash, we have ended up with 0.2% less than last year, mainly because of the way the housing grant has impacted on us."

Suffolk County Council's proposed council tax rise is the lowest since it replaced Poll Tax, which was abolished in 1993 after a mass non-payment campaign in Scotland and riots in London.

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