Low tax rises before election

HOUSEHOLDERS in Suffolk should be able to look forward to an even lower council tax rise than last year, it emerged today.Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is giving councils across Britain an extra £1 billion next year to keep bills down.

HOUSEHOLDERS in Suffolk should be able to look forward to an even lower council tax rise than last year, it emerged today.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is giving councils across Britain an extra £1 billion next year to keep bills down.

That should enable them to keep increases below those introduced in April.

Suffolk County Council's element of council tax bills last year went up by 3.8 per cent and councillors and officials are hoping they will be able to keep the rise to a similar level next year.

The Government's support grant for Suffolk County Council is set to be £426million, an increase of £26.8 million, or 6.7% on last year.

More detailed evaluation of the figures needs to take place over the coming days and weeks.

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David Rowe, financial spokesman for the county council, said: "Our initial assessment is that the settlement is good news for the people of Suffolk as it appears to be slightly above our expectations.

"The Government has listened to our concerns and gone some way to increasing investment in public services.

"We will now be working hard to keep council tax to a low level while continuing to improve our frontline services."

Ipswich council will get an extra three pc from the government next year - a big improvement on the 0.6 pc it was warned to expect in the summer.

It has already issued a pledge to voters that its element of council tax bills will increase by no more than the rate of inflation next April, and the announcement will help it to achieve that.

Head of finance Peter Matthews said: "This is certainly better than we had feared in the summer, and it will help the administration to meet its pledge.

"It's a little disappointing that the county town of Suffolk is getting the second smallest increase in the county - but that's down to how the formula is calculated," he said.

Local government minister Nick Raynsford told MPs he expected to see "significantly lower increases next year" than the 5.9 pc this year.

He warned ministers would not hesitate to use their powers to cap rises proposed by councils which they believe are excessive.

Earlier Mr Brown announced the cash boost for councils in his Pre-Budget Report.

He promised £125 million will be new money and around £330 million will come from the reduction in ring-fencing and other obligations.

But the real controversy surrounds £512 million being reallocated from Whitehall departments.

Senior civil servants are thought to be furious at the order to cut spending as part of a deal to avoid council tax rises in the run-up to polling day.

Local authorities had warned they faced a £1 billion funding shortfall, saying unless Mr Brown plugged the gap council tax bills would rise by 10pc.

What do you think of Gordon Brown's plans? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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