Taxpayers face county rise

COUNCIL tax payers across Suffolk will have to pay an extra 3.8 per cent towards county services, it was confirmed today.Suffolk County Council voted in favour of the rise proposed by the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration.

COUNCIL tax payers across Suffolk will have to pay an extra 3.8 per cent towards county services, it was confirmed today.

Suffolk County Council voted in favour of the rise proposed by the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration.

They rejected an amendment put forward by the Conservative opposition which would have pegged the increase at 2.8pc – the current inflation rate.

Deputy council leader David Rowe, the executive member responsible for drawing up the budget, said more than £12 million in savings had been identified during a long process which looked at every aspect of the council's work.

He said the change in the law which enabled councils to reduce discounts given to holiday homes and empty properties had played a key role in helping to keep the rise down.

After last year's increase of 18.5 pc, this year's rise was one of the lowest in the country and the lowest in the history of Suffolk.

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Mr Rowe said he had appreciated the problems suffered by people as a result of last year's rise – and had only just finished writing to people who had contacted him.

"We recognise the sacrifice some people had to make to pay council tax last year and I have listened to many people telling me the difficulties it caused then and I do not want to return to level of council tax increase like that again," he said.

Conservative group leader Jeremy Pembroke put forward his group's alternative budget.

He said that despite the administration's claims, it had not got to grip with the basic problems affecting county hall.

It did not know exactly how many people were employed at its central offices – and it had not tackled the problem of a growing number of bureaucrats.

"You believed that between 1,200 and 1,400 staff occupied the County Hall campus when in fact there were 1,610, meaning that a major decision – namely the council's relocation to Endeavour House – was based on incorrect information," he said.

"As a result we must now leave some staff behind in one of our old buildings until another new building can be found."

He said that last year 680 non-frontline vacancies were filled at the council and recommended that a closer look should be taken before jobs were filled.

If 95 fewer staff had been taken on a further £2.1 million could have been saved.

Executive member Ray Nowak said the council had never claimed that all its head office staff could be accommodated in Endeavour House.

The issue of charging pupils for transport to and from Roman Catholic schools in Suffolk provoked some of the most heated debate.

Councillors said they had been inundated with phone calls and e-mails on the subject since Sunday, several claimed parents had been advised to contact them by Priests at Sunday service.

"This could result in many hundreds more parents driving their children to school, is that what the council which promotes green policies wants?" said Conservative environment spokeswoman Joanna Spicer.

Young people's spokesman Tony Lewis denied that removing free transport to Catholic schools was discrimination.

"At present pupils going to denominational schools are the only ones to get free transport to out of catchment schools. That is not fair," he said.

And he pointed out that neighbouring, Conservative-run, councils in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk had ended free transport to church schools.

Liberal Democrat councillor Leslie Warmington said he would not be voting for any level of council tax because he felt it was an unfair tax and could not support it in any shape or form.

The Conservative amendment to keep the council tax rise to 2.8pc was defeated by 45 votes to 30 with one abstention.

The budget itself was approved by 43 votes to 28 with one abstention.

nDo you think the 3.8pc rise is fair? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP41AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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