Tax rise planned for county in Suffolk County Council budget proposals
A council tax rise of three per cent is planned at Suffolk County Council from April – but the administration has pledged no cuts for the year ahead.
The council’s Conservative administration published its 2022/23 budget proposals this morning which proposes a maximum 1.99 per cent increase on the main council tax element, and a one per cent increase on the adult social care element – just under three per cent in total.
The administration could have increased the adult social care element by a further one per cent as it did not use the maximum increase last year, but said it has resisted that to ease the burden on homes whose budgets are already facing rising energy bills and cost-of-living pressures.
But opposition councillors say the rise could have been avoided if different decisions had been made in recent years.
The planned increase means an additional 62p per week for a Band B property – the most common in the county – or 80p per week for a Band D home.
Richard Rout, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance and the environment, said: “This is a far more positive budget than one I had anticipated making earlier in the year. This is principally because the chancellor has recognised some of the pressures local government is under. The settlement we received was much more generous than we feared it might be, and that is something we in local government are really grateful for.
“This has been a really difficult budget to consider. Covid continues to make life really challenging on so many levels for all of us – for us as a council and for our residents.
“Rising costs as a result of inflation, increasing demand for key services year after year has put real pressure on our budget, so we need to support Suffolk, help it build back following the pandemic, but ensure the key services are there for those who need it most and we recognise that our residents are feeling the pressure too.
“It’s not a decision we take lightly – we don’t come into this wanting to put up council tax, and I know for some people 62p or 80p a week is an amount that can make a real difference. However there is increasing recognition of the pressure our services are under and the need for them to be adequately resourced – particularly to support those who need it most.”
The budget plans will see the revenue budget increase from £598.2million to £625.4m in the year ahead.
That includes £16.2m additional cash going into the adult social care service and £9.9m in children’s and young people’s services. The authority said 75p in every £1 goes into those two service areas alongside public health.
The extra £9.9m for children’s services includes an additional £1.1m specifically to address improvements in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) identified in an independent report earlier this year.
Cllr Rout also said there will be an additional £6.5m set out next year to create even more SEND places, and an extra £1m over the next four years for ‘visible’ highways improvements like road sign repairs.
However, the revenue budget increase represents less than last year, which was an increase of £41m on 2020. The council said that did not consider the £14.7m in additional Covid-19 grants from the government last year.
Opposition councillors have raised concerns over a number of elements.
The Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group said the lack of a specific carbon budget meant the Conservatives have "failed to take their own declaration of a climate emergency seriously," and said the lack of support for the breweries and hospitality businesses in Suffolk left them with "the uncertainty of survival."
However, a council spokesman said a carbon budget will come forward to cabinet and full council in February.
Group leader Andrew Stringer said a one-year settlement from the Government was also not good enough.
He added: "The Government have promised all year that we would have a three-year settlement. They have broken their promise, and have shattered the confidence of local services.
"You cannot run local services efficiently if you do not know what you’re getting the year after next. The Government expect members of its own society to plan ahead financially, why can we not expect the same of them?"
Sarah Adams, Labour group leader, said: "The Conservatives are increasing taxes to almost the maximum possible, and this is because they have failed to put in more sensible increases over the last years.
"It has been clear to the opposition that by increasing the social care precept, this sharp increase in taxes could have been avoided. This is an accumulative failure to act, and if we were listened to before, we would not be repeating mistakes."
Unallocated reserve figures are set to be around £80m by the end of March 2022, but this is forecast to reduce over the next four years to around £68m by the end of 2024. The figure is usually based on 10 per cent of the council’s budget, which would be £62.5m for 2022.
The proposals will be assessed in detail by the council’s scrutiny committee on January 11, before a final sign off once any tweaks have been made on February 17.
The full council tax bill also includes separate elements for policing, the district or borough council and parish or town councils. Proposals for 2022 are set to be unveiled by those authorities over the coming weeks.