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West Suffolk Council hits out at 'not fit for purpose' funding from government as it puts up tax




A Conservative-controlled district council has hit out at the government's funding formula as 'not fit for purpose' as it puts up its rates again.

West Suffolk Council's cabinet last night agreed the plan to increase its share of the council tax, as it battles to make up a multimillion pound hole in its future budgets.

From April 1 Band D taxpayers in the former Forest Heath area will have to stump up £175.59 to the district, with those in the St Edmundsbury area having to pay £185.40. They will eventually be the same under a seven year harmonisation plan, which started last year.

West Suffolk House, in Bury St Edmunds. Picture by Mark Westley.
West Suffolk House, in Bury St Edmunds. Picture by Mark Westley.

Cllr Sarah Broughton, resources and performance, said because of 'good financial management' at the council the budget would 'avoid drastic actions actions you may see elsewhere'. Despite this the authority will still have to shave around £1 million off its spending in 2021/22.

The tax rise comes as the authority expects a £4.6 million bill for its coronavirus response by the end of the next financial year even after a Westminster grant.

"While I think we all welcome the funding provided by the government during this is really not enough to cover the costs we have in a sustainable way for the future," she said.

Cllr Sarah Broughton, cabinet member for West Suffolk Council at Toggam Solar Farm near Lakenheath.
Cllr Sarah Broughton, cabinet member for West Suffolk Council at Toggam Solar Farm near Lakenheath.

Cllr Broughton added that there was 'ever increasing demands on services' and that the authority would be playing a vital role in the economic recovery as well as 'dealing with the loss of income, which government expects the council to make up to make ends meet'.

"Local government funding therefore is not fit for purpose, and we will with other councils make this case to MPs and ministers for fairer and sustainable funding," she said.

Since the Conservative-led coalition government in 2010 local authorities have seen their central-government grants slashed - with the amount of money given from the Treasury to councils in England cut by more than 38 per cent since, according to the Institute for Government.

And at the same time as cutting the grant, the government made it more difficult to put up rates after it introduced a two per cent cap on council tax increases since 2012/13, unless local authorities won the backing of their residents at a referendum.

Council leader John Griffiths said the budget was one of 'the most challenging ones we have had to do for a very long time' because 'the perfect storm of Covid, years of reduced national funding and increased demand for our services have meant that we've had to find savings that we, I don't think, could possibly be expected to plan for'.

While a balanced budget can be set for the upcoming financial year, council accountants have 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.

Despite the district authority collecting rates, the majority of council tax money to Suffolk Council Council.

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