Suffolk's homes escape maximum council tax rise but rates will still go up by 4 per cent
Suffolk homes have escaped the maximum possible council tax rise for 2021 – but bills will still go up by four per cent.
Suffolk County Council has today published its budget plans for the 2021/22 financial year which will see a band B home pay just under £42 extra per year for the county's element of its bill, made up of a two per cent rise in the regular county council element and two per cent in the adult social care precept. A band D home will pay £53.55 more.
The government allowed county authorities to put their bills up by five per cent, meaning the council has not opted for the maximum amount.
Rises for district and borough councils, town and parish councils and the police and crime commissioner have not yet been published.
But, despite the rise, the authority will still be getting £14m less income from council tax than it did last year, largely because of the Covid-19 impact which has resulted in more homes benefitting from council tax support or claiming Universal Credit.
Cllr Gordon Jones, Conservative cabinet member for finance, said: the reason the authority did not opt for the maximum was 'to try and get a balance'.
“It’s been challenging times for the local authority, as all local authorities, but it has been challenging times for businesses and families the length and breadth of the county, so we have tried to take a balanced and pragmatic approach,” he said.
Nearly £11m in savings are being targeted through the authority’s savings plan for 2021/22, most of which will come from the adult care budget – £9.4m.
Contract savings and digital ways of working are set to help fund some of those savings needed, but Mr Jones said he was keen to avoid any swingeing cuts to frontline services.
“We have been very conscious of the response that the vast majority of residents within Suffolk have made to the pandemic,” he said.
“This was not the time to make any drastic changes, and I do hope that is well recognised. We certainly recognised the efforts made by people, the voluntary organisations and the whole community.”
However, with the Covid-19 uncertainty continuing, some funds may need to be covered from reserves.
The council has a target of £60m for its reserves pot by the end of the year – 10 per cent of the net revenue budget. But the £14m in council tax shortfall and £7.8m shortfall in savings from the planned transformation programme this year means up to £22m may be needed from reserves.
The council has said that the uncertainty around those final numbers until next year means it will fund those from reserves if needed, with a plan to build reserves back up over the coming years.
However, the opposition Labour group has taken a strike at the Conservatives nationally for the financial impact on Suffolk taxpayers, and fears about the medium and long term effects.
Labour group leader Sarah Adams said: “The mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic by this incompetent Conservative government has plunged our country into the worst recession of any major economy.
“Now it is taxpayers in Suffolk that are being forced to pick up the bill, all because the local Tories are unwilling to stand up for their residents and push for fairer funding from their friends in Westminster. The cost of their inaction is stark – by 2024/25 the cumulative budget gap will be approaching £200m. As usual, Suffolk’s Tory MPs and county councillors have gone missing when we need them the most.
“The Government’s refusal to fund local councils properly means that, as people see their council tax bills increase, the Tories in Suffolk will either make even deeper cuts to essential frontline services, or they will bankrupt the county council like Tory-run Northamptonshire. They will hope to hide that reality from voters before the elections next year, but their record speaks for itself: rising taxes coupled with the slashing of public services.”
The council’s scrutiny committee will consider the budget on January 7, before tabling any recommendations. That will then go to the cabinet on January 26 and a full council decision on February 11.