OPINION: 'We know people are deeply worried by cost of living crisis'

David Ellesmere, Ipswich Borough Council leader, has warned the problems could get worse before they

Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere has explained the council tax decisions taken by the authority this year. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Last week we unveiled Ipswich Borough Council’s budget for the coming year.

Over the past few months Labour party members have been knocking on the doors of thousands of people across Ipswich to find out their priorities and the results of those conversations have had a real influence on our budget.

We know that people are deeply worried about the cost of living crisis.

The massive increase in energy bills announced last week was just one part of this. Food and fuel prices have risen dramatically too, Universal Credit payments have been cut and the Government’s National Insurance increase is due to come into effect in April.

All of these are putting a huge amount of pressure on household budgets, and we do not wish to add to this unnecessarily. 

In Ipswich, our council tax bills are made up of charges from three different authorities: Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council and Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner. 

This year, Ipswich Borough Council’s increase of 1.98% in council tax is the lowest out of the three authorities. For the average Band B household this is the equivalent of 11p a week.

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In contrast, Conservative Suffolk County Council’s proposed increase is 53p a week (a 3% increase) and the Conservative Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner’s is 13p a week (a 4.2% increase).

However, we wish to provide even more help to people on low incomes so this year we are proposing to apply a discount of £10 for all households receiving Local Council Tax Relief.

This means that everyone currently receiving LCTR in Ipswich – over 7,500 households – would see their bills fall from April. Households in the lowest property bands would receive the largest savings with Band A properties seeing bills falls by £8.02.

As far as we are aware Ipswich is the only council in Suffolk proposing to reduce council tax for people on low incomes in this way.

We are currently evaluating what the Government’s recently announced council tax rebate means for people whose bills are less than £150. Do they just get their bills cut to zero or do they receive the full £150? If it is the latter, then we will keep our discount to add an extra saving.

If not, then we will use the money we have set aside to pay for the discount to save hard-pressed Ipswich families money in alternative ways.

We will also be consulting on a scheme to reduce council tax bills permanently for people on low incomes which would start in 2023 when there will be no more help from the Government.

It’s not just through council tax that we’re saving Ipswich households money though.

In the coming year we will continue to keep brown bin collections free of charge. Every other Conservative-run council in Suffolk charges – up to £55 – to collect garden waste. All of them are putting up their charges this year on top of their council tax increases. None of them has a discount scheme for households on low incomes.

We will also continue our popular young person’s summer iCard which provides free activities, including swimming, for all young people in Ipswich throughout the school summer holidays.

Again, we are the only council in Suffolk to provide this comprehensive summer offer which can be a godsend for families trying to find affordable activities to keep their kids occupied during the six weeks holiday.

We will keep Ipswich Museum and Christchurch Mansion – currently hosting the fantastic “Creating Constable” exhibition – free of charge for entry along with our wide range of amazing parks.

And this year, after a two-year pause during Covid, we are planning to restart our programme of free summer events including the hugely popular Music Day in Christchurch Park, the largest free one-day music festival in the country.

These all provide great days out for families whatever their budget.

All these measures will help provide some respite from ever increasing bills and lighten the financial burden on household budgets.

Next week I’ll detail some of the improvements we’re planning to make right across Ipswich over the next year.