Council tax hike fear
RESIDENTS in the Felixstowe and Woodbridge areas could face a massive 20 per cent hike in their council tax bills next year, it was claimed today.In a stinging attack on the government, Suffolk Coastal council leader Ray Herring blamed the Labour party for forcing its agenda onto local authorities but then failing to come up with the cash to pay for it.
By Richard Cornwell
RESIDENTS in the Felixstowe and Woodbridge areas could face a massive 20 per cent hike in their council tax bills next year, it was claimed today.
In a stinging attack on the government, Suffolk Coastal council leader Ray Herring blamed the Labour party for forcing its agenda onto local authorities but then failing to come up with the cash to pay for it.
It means the public will be left to foot the bill for new initiatives the government wants – and councils will have to cutback on current services to find the money.
Despite having already identified new savings and increased income of nearly £500,000 for next year, Conservative-run Suffolk Coastal – which covers Felixstowe, Martlesham, The Trimleys, Woodbridge and Kesgrave – says it will still have a budget gap of over £700,000 for 2003/04.
"Suffolk Coastal is one of the best run councils in the country and is successful in providing an extensive range of quality services on a value for money basis. But if the Government fails to adequately fund its agenda then the cost falls directly upon the council taxpayer," said Mr Herring.
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"The Government's own statements are bleak news for residents as it predicts that councils like us should increase our council tax by over six per cent a year for the next three years just to meet what Whitehall says we should be doing.
"Very few in this district can say their income is going to rise by six pc a year, but that is what the government is happy to say should happen to council tax bills.
"The truth is even worse – the cumulative effect of financial pressures outside the council's direct control easily equate to a 15 to 20 pc increase in next year's council tax."
The estimated cost of new legal requirements and increased costs of meeting existing legislation put on the council by Parliament is £370,000, while the increase in National Insurance payments for employers announced by the Chancellor will add a further £100,000 cost onto the local purse.
The proposed national pay agreement is expected to increase the authority's total wage bill by a further £570,000, some £250,000 more than anticipated, while higher prices for some specialist services are likely to add another £30,000 above what had been estimated.
In addition to the current estimated budget shortfall, the other danger stalking Suffolk Coastal is the government's planned review of the way it distributes its funding to councils.
It is feared that there could be a significant shift of money from rural to urban areas, which will further undermine Suffolk Coastal's budget in future years.