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West Suffolk residents face council tax rise as authority promises a balanced budget but faces shortfalls in the future

West Suffolk’s council tax is set to rise as the authority looks to balance its budget and has warned of multi-million pound shortfalls beyond the next financial year.

West Suffolk Council plans to introduce an average band D monthly increase of 22p and 3p for the former Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury areas respectively resulting in precepts of £175.59 and £185.40.

The authority, created in 2019, has to ‘harmonise’ council tax across the two areas within seven years and the increase has been outlined in West Suffolk’s budget for 2021-2022.

West Suffolk Council is set to raise council tax. Picture by Mark Westley
West Suffolk Council is set to raise council tax. Picture by Mark Westley

Papers to the authority’s cabinet, which meets on Tuesday, said despite Government cutbacks and the Covid-19 pandemic the council was in a ‘good financial position’ after ‘prudent budgeting, a review of vacant posts, investment as well as transformation’.

However, while a balanced budget can be set for the upcoming financial year, it warned of ‘gaps to be met in later years’ - forecast at £0.97 million in 2022 to 2023 and growing to £1.61 million in 2023/24 and £2.21 million in 2024/25.

Cllr John Griffiths, leader of West Suffolk Council, said they had to find an extra £1million to balance the budget and will continue to lobby Government to fund councils 'fairly in recognition of the services, and essential services, councils provide'.

"The budget is much more than a balance sheet and list of numbers," he said.

"It underpins how we can do the very best for West Suffolk, delivering high quality services and helping the most vulnerable while continuing to invest to support our businesses, communities and environment to ensure West Suffolk’s future prosperity.

"I am pleased that these proposals should deliver a balanced budget enabling us to not only continue to deliver much needed services, but invest in areas such as managing growth, health and wellbeing and the recovery locally."

During the pandemic, the council’s support for businesses and the vulnerable as well as running essential services has cost £2.6 million, with £1.4 million to be funded from the authority’s general fund reserve.

The report to cabinet said: “We will not understand the full impact of Covid-19 on the financial position of the council for a long time, especially as we are still in the pandemic.

“It is also likely to continue to come in phases particularly while the vaccine is still being distributed.”

Through the 2021 to 2022 budget process, the authority has set up a £2 million Covid-19 impact fund to support its financial projections.

The pandemic’s impact on council income for 2020 to 2021 is projected at more than £8 million.

This year, West Suffolk will receive an increase in Government funding ‘as a one off to assist with the expected continued impact of Covid-19’.

On future savings, the authority said its ‘transformation programme’ will look at service delivery, encouraging the use of digital forms for customer access and behaving more commercially.

The council also noted a focus on delivering ‘new income streams’ through investment projects and the building of housing through its company Barley Homes.

Meanwhile, the cabinet is to consider approving £466,733 in grants for 33 community groups and organisations.

Among those due to receive the community chest funding are West Suffolk Citizens Advice (£204,000), Gatehouse in Bury St Edmunds (£15,000) and Suffolk Accident And Rescue Service (£10,000).

The cabinet will also be asked to consider £61,250 of funding to help the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.

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