Tax rates up but could be worse
LOCAL politicians in two Suffolk districts have rebelled against their officers to try to keep tax bills down next year.But despite their attempts to bring costs under tighter control, the overall effect on residents will be only minimal because their districts' proportion of bills is so small.
LOCAL politicians in two Suffolk districts have rebelled against their officers to try to keep tax bills down next year.
But despite their attempts to bring costs under tighter control, the overall effect on residents will be only minimal because their districts' proportion of bills is so small.
Councillors at Suffolk Coastal and Mid Suffolk rejected officers' recommendations for double-digit rises in 2003-04 and set a ceiling on rises at 7.7 and 7.5 per cent respectively.
However householders in this districts will still see their overall council tax bills rise by about 18 per cent.
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This is because the county council's increase of 18.5 per cent and police authority's 33.4 per cent rise is such a large proportion of the bill.
Suffolk Coastal will set its budget on March 3 having already made cuts of more than £1.2 million – though councillors insist that services will not suffer.
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It will mean the average Band D household will pay £114.30 from April, compared with £106.11 currently, an £8.19 increase.
Suffolk Coastal, which will set a budget of £12.7 million, was expecting its share of the council tax to rise 20pc and believes keeping it to just three times the rate of inflation is a major success.
"It may seem strange to some people to describe a rise of over double the rate of inflation as a success, but the reality is that it is an considerable achievement for all as we have beaten the effects of external factors while preserving services," said council leader Ray Herring.
"Outside factors alone, such as the increase in National Insurance, the latest national pay award, and new statutory service requirements, have increased our costs by over £700,000."
"There is no complacency regarding achievements here. We have an excellent record of providing quality services at a price that our residents can afford but we will have to work even harder over the next year, especially if the government continues to apply rules that appear to penalise rural areas like Suffolk Coastal," Mr Herring added.
At Mid Suffolk, council leader Penny Otton said the government grant had helped keep tax rises down.
"Although we did get a reasonably good government settlement for once, the grant only goes part of the way to cover our increasing costs.
"We have tried to strike a balance between making cost savings while maintaining services and introducing some new growth items," she said.
Ipswich council's executive was meeting today to settle its council tax increase at 11.9 per cent.
"We had hoped to bring that figure down a bit as well," said executive member John le Grys. "But then we had another directive about benefits from the government that will cost us another £100,000 and that's extra savings we have to find."
Mr le Grys, who is also a member of Suffolk County Council, remains irritated by the government's treatment of local authorities in southern England despite the 6.2 per cent grant increase.
"It does look like a generous settlement they have given us, it is more than we expected.
"But then they have insisted we spend more of it on specific items so it doesn't go anywhere near as far as it should – that's why bills are going up," he said.
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