Tax rise set to be region's lowest

HOUSEHOLDERS in Suffolk could see one of the lowest council tax rises in East Anglia - with county council chiefs set to increase bills by an average of 74p per week.

HOUSEHOLDERS in Suffolk could see one of the lowest council tax rises in East Anglia - with county council chiefs set to increase bills by an average of 74p per week.

From April 1, council tax on Band D properties will rise by 3.75pc to £1,073.88 a year, although this does not include charges from district and parish councils and Suffolk Police Authority.

Last night, county council leader Jeremy Pembroke said Suffolk was likely to have the smallest increases of the six counties in the East of England - and one of the lowest of all the shire counties in England.

However, opposition leaders said an unexpected Government windfall of £6m should have led to an even smaller rise, and they accused the Tories of swingeing cuts in the social care budget for some of the county's most vulnerable elderly residents.

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Although the rise is nearly twice the rate of inflation, it is below the 4pc retail price increase (RPI) and under the 3.9pc rise given to pensioners.

Last night, campaigner Reg Hartles, from Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, gave a cautious welcome to the news.

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He said: “This small rise is probably tolerable, although of course the base figure was already high. It's far more welcome than the 18.5pc we had in 2003, but of course we do not yet know how much will have to be added for policing and the district council.”

Before the extra Government grant was announced, the county had said in November that it was preparing to reduce spending, including £1.97m on individual social care packages. This has been reversed and a further £300,000 will be available for people to spend on buying council services to keep them in their own homes.

Jane Storey, the county's portfolio holder for resource management, said an extra £36m would be spent on services in the year 2008-09.

“This has been funded from efficiencies and savings of £12m, government grant of £12m and council tax of £12m.

“This will give an extra £6.6m for vulnerable people and associated activities, £1.9m extra on fire, audit and inspection arrangements, contingencies, animal health and community safety, a one-off investment of £2.5m for highways maintenance, £500,000 for the upkeep of buildings and £1m on home care services to reduce the number of bed blockers in hospital.”

But Labour immediately accused the Tories of “continuing cuts of £5.5m in social care services while at the same time announcing a higher than necessary council tax increase.”

Resources spokesman Kevan Lim, said: “Despite receiving a huge windfall from Government, the administration is ploughing ahead with many of the cuts they announced in November as if nothing has changed while they appear incapable of managing the budget to ensure that council tax is increased by only a modest amount.”

He claimed many of the Tories' improvements in spending were only a reinstatement of the cuts they announced in November.

“The extra £2.5m on highway maintenance is actually £0.9m as they had planned to cut £1.6m in November. The extra £1m on public transport is actually only reinstatement of the cuts they announced in November.”

Kathy Pollard, the council's Liberal Democrat group leader, said the budget was a blow for social services.

“The Conservatives have already allowed the standards in adult care to drop. This was reflected in a recent inspection of the service which saw its star rating drop from three to two stars.”

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