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Council tax bill in Suffolk set for another 4 per cent rise in 2020/2021

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Homes in Suffolk will be hit with another 4 per cent council tax rise next year, it has been revealed, as finance chiefs attempt to balance the books.

The first draft of Suffolk County Council’s budget was published on Monday, which revealed a 1.99 per cent increase on the county council’s share of the council tax.

On top of that, a 2 per cent increase will be from the social care precept element of the council tax, making an overall increase of 3.99 per cent from the county council.

Endeavour House, Ipswich (24614644)
Endeavour House, Ipswich (24614644)

It means from the county’s portion of council tax alone, a Band B property will pay £40 a year more.

Homes are likely to face increases from their district or borough council, as well as from the police and crime commissioner, although those numbers have not yet been published.

Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s Conservative cabinet member for finance, said the final government settlement was expected to be better than previous years, and anticipated a council budget up by £31.5million on last year.

Addressing the question of why council tax needed to go up by that percentage given the settlement was expected to be better, Mr Jones said: “Because it’s a one year settlement, the old adage of a bird in the hand [is worth two in the bush] applies, and the authority retains the flexibility.

“We took a conservative view that it is better to have a consistent approach rather than an up-and-down approach.

“There are still concerns that there are very much demand pressures in children’s and young people’s services, the demand in special educational needs, and the council tax rise reflects that.”

Despite the tax increase, the better settlement means that the authority does not need to make significant cutbacks as it has in previous years.

Among the other key areas will be a £500,000 increase going forward for the fire service, and partway re-instating the Citizens Advice Bureaux grant of £120,000 a year for the next three years.

It also plans to increase its unallocated reserves by £10m over five years, up to £59.9m.

The budget proposals are to go before the council’s scrutiny committee on January 7, and must then get the go-ahead of the cabinet on January 28 and full council on February 13.

One of the new elements of Suffolk County Council’s budget is a £500,000 increase in the fire service budget.

According to Gordon Jones, much of that is in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the expected changes for fire services to come out of the report.

That is likely to include additional training and safety functions, although as the report has not yet published it is not yet clear how much additional work that will bring.

That £500,000 increase is set to continue in future years.

Mr Jones said: “We are putting an extra half a million into the fire budget, and a lot of that is in response to possible changes because of Grenfell.

“It would be imprudent not to do something with regard to that.”

The fire service also faces cost pressures from availability of on call firefighters and the need to recruit and retain them.

Reacting to the budget proposals, Sarah Adams, leader of the Labour group at Suffolk County Council, said: “The fact that the councillor responsible for the council’s finances resigned in protest against these plans, says it all. The Conservatives cannot even agree amongst themselves and it shows.

“Their future financial projections amount to little more than guesswork – even they admit that the continuation of the social care grant is ‘far from certain’.

“The revelation that, without this grant, the budget gap could reach £29m by 2023-24 is extremely concerning.

“So, whilst one-off pre-election giveaways might offer a fleeting respite to the council’s mounting demand pressures, they won’t be felt by our residents or offer any long-term stability.

“The message is clear – Conservative austerity is far from over.”

Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “The draconian decision of Suffolk to stop all council meetings during the election period, unlike neighbouring authorities, means councillors have had very limited time to investigate the budget.

“I hope the numerous increases in financial support announced by the new government will now be felt within local government.

“Councils have been desperately underfunded for years, and so many services are now in crisis: adult social care, rural buses and SEND services are all struggling.

“We expect the new government to deliver on their promises and give Suffolk the funding it needs.”