Mark Bee

Suffolk County Council budget set to be frozen again

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
10.21 AM

Suffolk County Council’s element of council tax bills is set to be frozen for the third consecutive year after its cabinet backed the budget for 2013/14 – but there was a bleak warning about the years ahead.

It is the third year running the authority hasn’t increased bills, and it will now receive a bonus grant from the Government as a result.

However, it will need to make savings of almost £25m on the budget next year to keep tax bills the same – and there was a harsh warning about the future prospects for local government from deputy council leader Jane Storey.

Presenting the budget proposals on Tuesday, she said: “Future funding for local government is looking worse than bleak.”

She warned the council was likely to have to find further major savings in the years after 2014.

Her warning was taken up by backbench Conservative Richard Smith, who said whoever was in power after May’s elections, the county would be looking at making savings of up to £140million by 2018.

During the debate there were calls from opposition Lib Dem and Labour councillors for more to be spent on supporting schools because of the concerns about Suffolk’s slide down the league tables.

This prompted council leader Mark Bee to declare his support for children and young people’s spokesman Graham Newman, who has been in the eye of the storm.

Mr Bee said no-one could have worked harder and could be more committed to improving standards in Suffolk’s schools and he was sure Mr Newman was the right person for the job – a statement that prompted a ripple of applause among Conservative councillors at the meeting.

Most borough and district councils in Suffolk are also planning to freeze council tax – and police commissioner Tim Passmore is also planning to freeze his element of the tax in 2013/14.

Proposals for a new travel card for Suffolk’s youngsters have also been backed by the county’s cabinet.

The new “Endeavour Card” should be introduced for the start of the new academic year in September, and will offer 16 to 19-year-olds discounts of 25% on bus journeys with most of the county’s major operators.

It will replace the Explore Card which was scrapped on cost grounds two years ago – but cabinet member Guy McGregor insisted there were significant differences.

The new card will be similar to London Transport’s Oyster – there will be a smart card that youngsters can put money on to give them discounted fares.

Eventually the technology could be available to all, but cabinet member Guy McGregor said the age range had been limited to keep costs down.