Cuts on the cards as councils squeezed

HOUSEHOLDERS are faced with swingeing cuts and massive price rises as district councils struggle to balance the books.Suffolk Coastal Council has warned a £1.

HOUSEHOLDERS are faced with swingeing cuts and massive price rises as district councils struggle to balance the books.

Suffolk Coastal Council has warned a £1.3million budget shortfall will have to be met by tax rises, service cuts, higher charges - or a combination of all three.

And Babergh District Council has set up a special penny-pinching committee to wade through council services looking for potential cutbacks.

Yesterday it was revealed Mid-Suffolk Council is planning to axe £800,000 from its budget as it bids to avoid to a whopping 21 per cent council tax rise.

Ipswich Council has refused to be drawn on its budget plans, saying it will wait to see the colour of the government's money before making final decisions.

But if the example of Suffolk Coastal is anything to go by, Ipswich money-men should not hold their breath.

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Director of finance Peter Collicott said he was expecting just £110,000 more from Whitehall next year - £80,000 less than the new government-imposed charges.

He said councillors were considering big price rises for parking, swimming, sports centres and beach hut rents.

Council Tax payers were hit with a massive 18pc rise last year, but Suffolk Coastal's hike was just 7.7pc

But Mr Collicott warned of possible further rises to come in a break down of the balance sheet facing his council.

He said pay increases would add £420,000, price increases an extra £300,000, government-imposed changes £190,000 and service developments £100,000.

Mr Collicott is also budgeting for a drop in investment income of £150,000 and other costs.

He said: "Government is planning to give local authorities more freedoms to raise income by allowing new charges to be levied for certain activities."

"Some constraints will inevitably apply, but the council will need to examine closely any new opportunities that may arise.

"It is clear that the council will again need to make substantial reductions in existing budgets in order to contain its spending growth at an appropriate level."

He said Suffolk Coastal was proud of its record in never overspending its budget and said £16million was held in reserve to cover emergencies.

Babergh Council has also warned fees could go up. The council's free car parking policy seems certain to face the axe.

Geoff Kistner, a corporate director at the council, promised the council's priority areas would not be cut back.

But warned every other aspect of council service was being closely examined for potential savings.

Youth strategy and facilities, recycling and green waste, affordable housing, developing e-government and promoting rural sustainability will all continue.

And Mr Kistner promised his council was committed to search for a solution to keep tax rises pegged to the level of inflation in future years.

He said: "At the moment we have had to look at raising money from charging. Car parking is free at the moment, but we will look at this in the near future along with other charges like licensing, land, pest control and rodent control."

A special steering committee has been set up to investigate savings. It will report back to the council next month.

Timeline to tax bills:

November: County Council and districts consult residents about next year's bills.

Early December: Government due to announce level of grants for local authorities next year.

February: Councils produce detailed budgets revealing how high council tax should be.

March: Council tax bills set – the government has warned these could be capped if the new levels are increased too much.

April: New council tax bills hit the doormats.

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