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West Suffolk Council accused of mowing grass at businesses as estates are neglected

A council came under fire this week, accused of mowing grass at private businesses while public areas across the district were left neglected.

Last week, West Suffolk Council apologised for grass cutting delays – citing ‘changes in key staff’ and challenging weather – which had forced Bury St Edmunds residents to take action to tackle ‘jungle’ areas.

But the Bury Free Press was tipped off this week that grass cutting was up to date at some businesses which pay West Suffolk Council for the service.

Long grass pictured last week in Newmarket Road, Bury St Edmunds. Picture by Mark Westley
Long grass pictured last week in Newmarket Road, Bury St Edmunds. Picture by Mark Westley

In an email, a reader said: “How come the council can cut The Suffolk Golf Club every day and do the grounds at Hengrave Hall, but not what we pay our Council Tax for?
“The estates are a mess now. In all my 50-odd years in Bury I have never seen it so bad. The council may say they are under-staffed but sorry, no excuses for this.”

On Wednesday, a West Suffolk Council spokesman confirmed it undertook contracted work to generate funds, but said that it balanced resources between private and public work.

While the council would not deny or confirm that work at Hengrave Hall and the Suffolk Golf Club was carried out while there were delays in grass cutting in public areas, they did say there were some issues raised on their contracted work.

However, Cllr David Nettleton, who has been asking the council for answers over the grass cutting delays this summer, said he was very concerned if the council was fulfilling its private contracts but not delivering the service to Council Tax-payers.

Cllr David Nettleton (13403981)
Cllr David Nettleton (13403981)

He said: “First of all, the normal grass cutting on the verges in the town and borough, this is a contract with the tax-payer. So nobody should have priority over the routine mowing because they pay a little extra. We should be treating everyone fairly. The people who have paid should have their grass cut, but so should everybody else even though there’s no contract as such in place. We have paid our Council Tax, therefore we are entitled to the service.

“They (the council) should have a programme with no favouritism. I don’t approve if this is what is happening.”

The council spokesman said: “Given that only around a fifth of the income required to pay for public services comes from Council Tax and that only around 10 per cent of the Council Tax bill comes to us, we have to provide contracted work, which also includes commercial waste, cleansing and tree maintenance services, in order to generate money to help pay for public services.

“We derive income from undertaking grounds maintenance at community and commercial sites across West Suffolk and wherever possible we time this work with our public area grass cutting to maximise efficiency. We have been doing this for a number of years, maintaining school playing pitches as well as parish and town green spaces and graveyards and we balance resources between our public and private work.”

He added there had been ‘some issues raised on our contracted work, but we believe we are now caught up and back to our regular cycle of cutting for both contracted work and public spaces’.

It’s only right that the local authorities keep their end of the bargain and mow the lawns in public areas - John O’Connell, Taxpayers' Alliance

John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which campaigns to lower taxes and speak up for tax-payers, said: “This kind of behaviour is simply not on from West Suffolk.

“Families lose a huge amount of their income through Council Tax. So it’s only right that the local authorities keep their end of the bargain and mow the lawns in public areas.

“While many councils are branching out and getting additional revenue from non-taxpayer sources, it’s imperative that they remember who pays their salaries and pensions.”