May 18 2013 Latest news:
By Paul Geater
Friday, February 15, 2013
SUFFOLK’S element of council tax bills is to be frozen for the next four years if the Tories retain power at Endeavour House.
That was the pledge made to the county council yesterday as it agreed to the third council tax freeze running.
Leader Mark Bee made the pledge during the council’s budget debate – but it was immediately questioned by opposition councillors who dismissed it as an attempt to gain more votes in May’s elections.
And yesterday evening the administration wrote to Local Government secretary Eric Pickles to tell him of the pledge.
Mr Bee announced the proposed freeze during the budget debate at Endeavour House. He said: “I am proud to announce today that if we are re-elected in May we will freeze the council tax, not just for the first year but for all four years of the next council.
“And we will do this and protect front line services for the most vulnerable in our society. That is our pledge. That is our commitment.”
This provoked cheers from his own side – but did not impress the opposition.
Liberal Democrat councillor Craig Dearden-Phillips said: “I don’t see how you can make such a commitment for four years. How do you know what the situation will be in two years’ time?”
And his group leader, David Wood, said the move was clearly made to get the headlines from the budget debate in the run-up to the elections.
Earlier the Conservative administration had defeated a Liberal Democrat amendment to the budget which would have led to the council spending more on education by taking £1.7million from reserves.
It was proposed by Lib Dem deputy leader John Field who said the problems faced by Suffolk schools had been well documented, and money needed to be spent to increase support for them.
However council deputy leader and cabinet member for finance Jane Storey said reserves should not be raided for this kind of issue: “The money in the reserves can only be spent once.”
During the main debate Lib Dem Mr Wood said he understood the need for tight spending restraint, but there were issues that caused great concern.
He said: “There are significant cuts in adult and community services, yet again aiming the biggest reductions in areas where we provide for the vulnerable, which inevitably makes us question the effect on frontline services.”
During her introduction to the budget debate, Mrs Storey had said that most people only use the county council’s roads and – when they are young – its schools.
Labour leader Sandy Martin said everyone in Suffolk was a potential user of its adult care services: “We all need to have good services provided in the county,” he added.
During her summing up at the end of the debate Mrs Storey said that figures showed only 3% of the population of Suffolk used adult and care services – but the freeze in council tax bills would benefit all householders.
Some members of the cabinet outlined what the departments they are responsible for had acheived over the last year.
Lisa Chambers, who is responsible for environmental issues, said work was continuing on the incinerator – or energy from waste plant – at Great Blakenham.
She said: “This is proceeding much more smoothly than it is in some other parts of the country not that far away from Suffolk.”
Controversial proposals to build an incinerator at Kings Lynn have split the Tories in Norfolk.
The budget was approved by the significant majority of 39 votes to 11 – but a substantial number of councillors had left the chamber well before the end of the three-hour debate.