Council tax up despite rebellion

A REBELLION by three Liberal Democrats could not prevent Suffolk County Council pressing ahead with its 18.5 per cent tax hike today.The Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition at County Hall voted for the increase by 41 votes to 35.

By Paul Geater

UNREPENTANT council tax rebel John Field today defended his decision to vote against an 18.5 per cent rise at County Hall.

The Liberal Democrat councillor, who represents the Bramford, Claydon and Blakenham area on Suffolk County Council, was joined by two other members of his party to oppose the rise.

John Kelso and Adi Lavender joined him in opposing the increase.

But they couldn't prevent the rise being approved by 41 votes to 35.

All 31 Conservative councillors councillors opposed the increase – as did independent councillor Richard Kemp.

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"We were very unhappy about the council tax rise, and other members of our group knew about our unhappiness," Mr Field said today.

"I had planned to vote like that before the debate, nothing that was said today made me change my mind.

"This is the wrong time to be forcing such a large increase – I don't think they looked hard enough for efficiency savings."

Because the Liberal Democrats do not operate a formal whip, the three councillors will not be disciplined – but Mr Field expected "comments" would be made to them by party leaders.

Group leader Peter Monk said his colleagues would be speaking to the rebels to explain the consequences of the vote – but would not be apply pressure.

The vote came after furious Conservatives were denied the chance to put a last-minute amendment to the budget.

Opposition leader Jeremy Pembroke tabled the amendment, which would have limited the rise to 14 per cent, at the start of the debate.

However council standing orders say an amendment can only be debated if it has been tabled 48 hours before a debate.

In an emergency it can be debated if the council gives it the go-ahead. Councillors voted against hearing the Tory amendment.

Mr Pembroke was fuming about this during the debate. "Democracy has been the loser today, they didn't want to hear the argument and voted against it," he said.

Council executive member David Rowe presented the budget, and said an increase of 13.2 per cent would have produced a standstill.

"This is a bold budget – one which does require an increase in council tax which is high and which I do not propose lightly," he said.

And Labour councillor Graham Manuel revealed that his group had not been united in its support for the rise.

"Because of the nature of British democracy, I will be voting for this measure. But I have to say that there are members of the group who are very unhappy about that and will be doing so with a very heavy heart," he said.

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