More bad news for taxpayers

HOMEOWNERS could be asked to pay a higher percentage of their council tax bill towards policing if the Government does not increase its funding to the county next year.

HOMEOWNERS could be asked to pay a higher percentage of their council tax bill towards policing if the Government does not increase its funding to the county next year.

Christine Laverock, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said the force was bracing itself for a "very low settlement" from the Home Office and warned any gap in funding next year could lead to a rise in its council tax share.

The warning follows the police authority's decision to increase its council tax share this year by 33.4 per cent – one of the highest in the country that left band D taxpayers paying £109.49 to fund policing in Suffolk.

According to Government indicators, the maximum the police authority can expect from next year's budget settlement is a 3% increase.


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But with expenditure increasing by between 6% and 8%, Mrs Laverock said the police authority was "very anxious" about finances for the coming year.

"If the Government reduces the income they give us by even 0.5%, that equates to several million pounds and that then means a higher percentage of council tax," she added.

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"We are very concerned about the 2004 budget because all that we have heard from the Home Office and the Treasury is we are going to get a very low settlement.

"We are obviously doing all we can to influence that, but I have got a feeling policing is no longer the top priority of the Government."

Mrs Laverock said a poor Government settlement would not affect the force's recruitment initiative, which will see 200 new officers by March next year.

But she added: "We do not want to find that we don't have enough money to equip them with up-to-date vehicles and IT facilities to do the job well."

Council tax rebel and former magistrate Betty Bone, from Sudbury, said: "I am absolutely hopping mad. It's getting too much.

"The poor old taxpayer has got to foot the bill again and the Government just sits there and gives us less and less money so they can say they are cutting down income tax.

"I don't see why services might have to be cut. We want the details of where this money is going."

Suffolk Police Authority is planning to undertake a consultation exercise at the end of the year to gauge the public's views on any potential council tax rises.

"We are going to have to carefully weigh up what the public's view is of all of this. We don't want to see a reduction in service," said Mrs Laverock.

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