Tough choices for Suffolk districts

IN all the fallout from last week's announcement about council tax grants, district and borough councils across the county are feeling seriously exposed.

IN all the fallout from last week's announcement about council tax grants, district and borough councils across the county are feeling seriously exposed.

They got much smaller percentage increases than the much larger Suffolk County Council – and many fear they could be targetted by a government looking to make an example out of local councils.

That's because although they are much smaller than the county, they spend a much higher proportion of their money on things many people don't see as "essential" and which are therefore more likely to cut.

And while no one will admit to wanting to see hours cut at public swimming pools or the number of shows at the council theatre cutback, at least that can be a signal to everyone that a local authority is cutting costs without actually hurting anybody.

If the county council has to cut back on home helps, then it is guaranteed bad publicity from elderly people who have to live in squalor because their home is not cleaned.

If the borough or district council cuts the early-morning swimming sessions, their might be a muted protest from those who swim on their way into work in the morning – but it won't exactly tug at the heartstrings!

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Councils throughout the county are busy number-crunching – and at Civic Centre in Ipswich there is real concern.

"The irony is, whatever we do to our budget will only have a minor effect on the total council tax bill," said one worried councillor.

"But we know we are going to come under pressure from the governmment to keep our increase very low. What do we do with the Regent or Crown Pools?

"Do people want these to be cut back or do they want us to maintain their current levels," he told me.

At Mid Suffolk there are real fears that the council will be forced to cut back on its leisure centre – one of the best in the county and with the popular Playworld section for young children.

"Things are tight here, things like our high-profile services will be under the spotlight," a councillor told me.

I SEE from yesterday's Queen's Speech the government is showing once again how little faith it has in the opinions of the public.

Not content with a drugs Tzar and an NHS Tzar, we now have the threat of traffic jam Tzars to beat congestion.

It sounds like a good idea – call in an expert to sort out the problem – but what worries me is who will ultimately be responsible for the solution.

Will it be the local council, which is at least based in the community, or the Department of Transport in London.

Who knows most about the problems faced by drivers getting into Ipswich every day – local people or a Whitehall bureaucrat.

Just like every other government I can remember, this current lot talks a great deal about giving "power to the people" while in actual fact it is anxious to gather more and more for itself.

It's not the only government to do that of course – I had to laugh when I heard the Tories were talking about directly electing police authorities.

Until the early 1990s, police forces were run by police committees which were part of the county council – which is of course directly elected.

Who got rid of them? The Tories under Home Secretary Michael Howard.

The Police Authorities are now made up of local business leaders, lay people, and local politicians selected by the Home Office.

This change came in despite cries of anguish from the Labour opposition.

Isn't it impressive how a sniff of power makes the ruling party desperate to get more and the opposition desperate to persuade them to give it away!

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