Minister's tax warning to Suffolk
DON'T try it again!That was today's blunt message from local government minister Nick Raynsford to Suffolk councillors feeling the anger of the public over council tax rises.
DON'T try it again!
That was today's blunt message from local government minister Nick Raynsford to Suffolk councillors feeling the anger of the public over council tax rises.
Another "unreasonable" increase from the county council will see the government step in and introduce capping, he warned.
But he flatly denied that the government had anything to do with this year's 18.5 per cent rise – and said any councillors who suggested otherwise were wrong.
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Many at County Hall in Suffolk have blamed the rise on a change in the government's grant formula which effectively cut £14 million in grant from the council.
They say if that had not been taken away, the rise in April would have been just 10 per cent.
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That argument didn't impress Mr Raynsford: "We didn't take £14 million from Suffolk. I don't know where anyone has got that figure.
"Suffolk got an increase in its grant from the national government of 6.1 per cent.
"That's higher than the rate of inflation, and it's higher than the national average rate of increase which was 5.9 per cent.
"It's for Suffolk County Council to explain why with that kind of increase from the government they needed to increase council tax bills by 18.5 per cent."
He had been assured by leading councillors that the 18.5 per cent increase was a one-off.
"I've had a meeting with them and I've been assured they won't be looking for a similar increase in future years.
"If there was a proposal for another unreasonable increase then they would certainly be looking at being capped.
"Capping remains an option for councils with high increases – especially for those with year-on-year large rises – although it is not something we want to do because we feel it should be up to councils to set their own budgets," he said.
Councils were not right to blame extra social costs on government legislation – money had been given to them to cover these.
"There is an extra £100 million for the bed-blocking initiative – if councils are efficient in the administration of this they can make money from it," Mr Raynsford said.
Council leader Bryony Rudkin accepted that the county was responsible for the increase in the bills, but was adamant these were because of special circumstances.
"We had special factors with social services which meant we had to get the finances on a firm basis.
"There was an inspection which showed up areas that needed attention and we had to deal with those – which cost money.
"What we have done is put Suffolk on the same cost base as Norfolk and Essex – and we certainly hope we won't need another big rise again," she said.
But she didn't like the description of the rise as a one-off. "That would imply it was a mistake – something we did wrong.
"It was something that had to be done to sort out the social services. Hopefully we won't have to face that again," she added.
Deputy leader David Rowe leads the council's budget discussions.
"We did get minus £14 million because of what is called resource equalisation and we felt that was unfair," he said.
"It's a complicated system but it seemed that we were being punished because we were a more efficient authority – and that's not right.
"Local government finance is hideously complex. We have a team of accountants to work it out, so we know the lay person has little chance of understanding who is responsible!"