County agrees £38 million cuts – and council tax freeze for Suffolk
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk is to cut £38million from county council services next year – despite an impassioned plea from the opposition to take £12m from reserves for vital services for children and vulnerable people.
The budget does mean the county is able to freeze council tax bills again next year, the fifth year in succession that there has been no increase in the its element of bills.
The Labour amendment would have seen an extra £3.5m being given to seven secondary schools and academies across the county, which have been rated as inadequate by Ofsted, to help improve the education through their school pyramids.
It would also have created a fund for minor road improvements in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft. The opposition also would have reversed the closure of children's centre buildings, while also giving funds to Home Care Support and improving support services for young people leaving county council care.
Opposition leader Sandy Martin told the meeting: 'There are a few people in Suffolk who would cope perfectly well with minimal county council services. 'So long as the roads are well-enough maintained for them to be able to drive their children to their private schools and visit their private hospitals they are not much bothered by any of the other things the council provides.'
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But he said there were many more people who needed council help: 'We propose to use the very substantial resources the council has available to enable the people of Suffolk who need our help to make their lives and the lives of everyone around them happier, healthier, more productive, more creative, better in every way.'
Presenting the Conservative administration's budget, cabinet member for finance Jenny Antill said the council had already cut £130 million from the council's £600 million budget over the last three years.
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She said: 'Regardless of the political nature of the Government after May's election, there is no reason to believe that there will be any relief from financial cuts imposed by the centre.
'Indeed it is becoming plain that over the next few years we will see the complete removal of our revenue support grant which amounted to 18% of our budget, excluding schools, in 2015/16.'
Council leader Mark Bee said using reserves risked the financial health of the council: 'Yes, we could indeed use our reserves and leave this council in the same financial predicament that you left it in last time you were in power.
'Because, let's be clear – this is not a rainy day, this is the prevailing weather for as long as any of us can forecast.
'On this side of the chamber, we plan for the future to make things better for the people of Suffolk, rather than take a short term view and plunder our reserves that give us the much needed safety net to radically redesign the way that this organisation delivers its services.'
The council rejected the Labour amendment by 38 votes to 30 and then approved the Conservative budget by 37 votes to 31. Green councillor Andrew Stringer voted against both budget proposals because he felt the Labour amendment was too timid.