Ipswich to see increase in council tax after new measures introduced
Ipswich will see an increase in council tax on long-term empty properties and an end to the production of The Angle newspaper, as part of upcoming measures agreed by the council offset inflation.
This comes as the Office for National Statistics has predicted 9.1% inflation, contributing to a total budget gap for the council of £23 million over the next four years.
The changes come as part of a revised medium term financial plan, which will last four years and is predicted to produce at least £2.3 million of savings.
The decision to implement the plan was made during a vote at a full council meeting yesterday, during which Labour members voted for the measures, Conservatives voted against and Liberal Democrats abstained.
Labour councillor and leader of the council David Ellesmere said: “Soaring prices aren’t just affecting households. They are hitting the council hard, too.
“Our whole approach is intended to respond to inflation in a manner that ensures the council remains financially sustainable in the medium term.
“None of the areas where savings are proposed has a direct impact on household finances of Ipswich residents.
“Free of charge brown bins and the free young person’s Summer iCard will remain.
“The proposal to move community cash grants to three-year awards will make it easier for the organisations who benefit to plan their budgets.”
Introduced in 2018, the Summer Holiday iCard provides free activities during the summer holidays for children aged 5 to 16 who live or go to school in Ipswich.
The medium term financial plan includes: increasing council tax on empty homes; easing production of The Angle newspaper, which is published by the borough council; moving face-to-face customer services provision from the town hall and letting the customer service space commercially; replacing community cash grants (annual grants for organisations supporting the community) with three-year awards; returning the management of Northgate Sports Centre to Suffolk County Council; selling land, and ending maintenance of highway verges on behalf of the Suffolk County Council – which has responsibility over this.
Conservative councillor Edward Phillips said: “As usual, the council is not taking any of the blame for their poor financial control.
“My conclusion is that the council has been planning to increase service costs for some time, and that high inflation is a good smokescreen.
“I’m shocked that the council is only now considering a further review of fees and charges. Why has this taken until now?
“I’ve been calling for the council to run itself in a more business-minded way for years, but they’ve always ignored that and told us that they know best.
“I can guarantee Ipswich Labour will continue to put up council tax. They will charge more, and they will give less.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Oliver Holmes said: “We can see the need to address inflationary measures but we cannot agree to the exact proposals of this report as they would not be the priorities of Liberal Democrat councillors.
“Inevitably, the help this council can provide to residents to support with the cost-of-living crisis will be limited as a result of increasing inflation.
“We accept that there is a considerable budget gap and the council is unlikely to receive any central government help.
“Of course, the need for such action could have been avoided if this administration like other Suffolk districts had maintained adequate reserves.
“We must build greater resilience into our finances in future.
“What we need to do is be honest with our residents. We have to tell them that the council faces cuts to services and facilities, rather than obscuring or downplaying the truth as this report does.”
In response to criticism of the plan, Cllr Ellesmere said: “Cllr Holmes said we should be honest with residents. We’re the only ones who are being honest with residents.
“We’re saying that there is a serious problem facing this council, along with every council in the country. Put simply, our major source of income is council tax, which can only rise by 2%, but our costs are going up by more than 9%.
“We’re saying we need to start tackling this now and we’ve set out some initial measures for doing that. But we’re not saying that’s it – there will be plenty more coming down the road as well, probably worse than the changes proposed today and definitely worse if we don’t get more help from the government.
“Neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Conservatives have given us a plan for where they would make savings. The Conservatives’ plan is to sit back and criticise us when we take the difficult but necessary decisions because of the failures of their government.”