Tax rise low but above inflation

SUFFOLK'S council tax bills will have one of the lowest rises in Britain, it was confirmed today.But county hall chiefs remained unrepentant about last year's 18.

SUFFOLK'S council tax bills will have one of the lowest rises in Britain, it was confirmed today.

But county hall chiefs remained unrepentant about last year's 18.5 per cent rise.

Council leader Bryony Rudkin insisted that it was last year's massive rise which paved the way for a 3.9 per cent rise this year – and for further lower increases in years to come.

"The rise last year saw Suffolk come into line with other similar authorities. It meant that we were able to put social care services on to a solid footing," she said.

"We always knew that this would enable us to introduce savings in this area now – and in future years," she said.

The Star revealed a week ago that the council was aiming for a very low increase – councillors were considering a 4.5pc rise but eventually brought it in well under that figure.

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Council deputy leader David Rowe agreed that the pressure from across the county – spearheaded by the Star's Cap the Tax campaign had a major impact on the final rise.

In the agenda, the council lists all the consultation it had in drawing up the proposal – including "Feedback from the Evening Star's coupon campaign."

Mr Rowe also defended the 18.5pc hike.

"Some good did come out of the increase – the extra £1m we pumped into social care helped 700 old people to live in their own homes rather than go into council-funded care which would have cost council tax payers far more."

He added: "I cannot give a cast iron guarantee about tax in 2005-06, but I want to ensure it is at the low end of the scale. I want to eliminate roller-coaster rises and introduce a culture of firm financial management."

Both Mr Rowe and Mrs Rudkin said last year's increase had, at least, sparked a debate among residents about council tax.

"I think people are now much more aware of what we do and what council tax is spent on," said Mrs Rudkin.

"And the response of your readers showed that it was a subject that provoked a great deal of interest."

She has added her voice to calls for an overhaul of local taxes.

"I have written to ministers saying there must be a major reform in the method used to collect money by local authorities," she said.

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