Vice chairman in rebel threat
SUFFOLK county council's vice-chairman is set to rebel against his own Liberal Democrat party's decision to back a massive 18.5% rise in council tax.Peter Howard says he is "deeply unhappy" at the increase, the second highest among England's 35 shire counties, which will take the average Band D tax for county services to £890.
SUFFOLK county council's vice-chairman is set to rebel against his own Liberal Democrat party's decision to back a massive 18.5% rise in council tax.
Peter Howard says he is "deeply unhappy" at the increase, the second highest among England's 35 shire counties, which will take the average Band D tax for county services to £890.02 from April 1.
Householders across Suffolk are facing total tax bills in excess of £1,100 following additional record rises being imposed by the police authority and district councils.
The blame for the rises has been laid at the Government's decision to favour the north and midlands with the lion's share of this year's cash allocation for councils.
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Mr Howard, who represents Framlingham, said: "I have told my party I am seriously considering voting against the 18.5% council tax rise - it is far too high.
"I am waiting for more detailed financial documents to be sent to me before I make a final decision. I want to get to the heart of just why we have been placed in this situation.
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"At this stage, I'm not in the business of apportioning blame for the rise. But further explanations for this enormous increase have to be given to the people of Suffolk."
Mr Howard added: "In many ways, the situation for me is like the one we are facing over military action with Iraq - we have not been given enough information for me to vote in favour and the same applies to council tax."
If he does rebel against the budget when it is due to be ratified at a full meeting of the authority tomorrow, Mr Howard would be the first councillor to break ranks in a crucial vote since the Lib Dems joined Labour to run the county council in 1993.
The two parties were re-elected in 1997 and 2001, and have operated an unofficial pact in some key seats, not fielding candidates against each other to keep the Tories out.
The ruling executive body in Suffolk, which unanimously approved the 18.5% rise, comprises seven Labour councillors and two Liberal Democrats. The political composition of the council is such that the tax rise will be forced through tomorrow by Labour supported by the majority of the Liberal Democrats.
If all 78 members of the county council turn up tomorrow, it would need eight of the 12 Lib Dems to vote with the 31 Conservatives and one Independent for the budget to be defeated.
Liberal Democrat group leader Peter Monk, who is deputy leader of the council, said Mr Howard would be given the latest financial position at a party group meeting in the morning. But no action would be instigated if did vote against the budget.
"Unlike the other two parties, Liberal Democrats do not operate a whip system and councillors who vote against group policy are not disciplined."
Mr Monk added: "None of us is happy with the financial situation which the Government has dumped on us. I feel bitter – we are a good authority and are being penalised by the political decision to take money away from us and give it to councils in the north and midlands."