Council tax freeze could net Norfolk �8m

Norfolk County Council looks set to be more than �8m better off next year after chancellor George Osborne announced that local authorities which freeze council tax will get a share of just over �800m.

The chancellor said at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester yesterday that local authorities which agree to freeze the tax will receive a funding increase equivalent to a 2.5pc council tax rise.

That would mean Norfolk County Council, which has already announced it will freeze its portion of the council tax for the second year in a row, would get an increase.

Ian Mackie, county council deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and performance, said: 'We have yet to hear the fine details and whether this money will be one-off or for revenue funding, but if it works the same way as last year then it would mean we would be looking at �8.4m.

'All such additional money from central government is welcome. We had already started our financial planning on the basis of a second year of council tax freeze.

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'There is a lot of cost pressure on us which it might help to mitigate.'

The county council has made �60m worth of savings this year and had planned to make �95m of savings over the next two years, on top of that.

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But last month the ruling Conservative cabinet announced it had revised its savings plan and now needed to save �75m over the next two years.

The county council gets the lion's share of the money (more than 70pc) from each council tax bill in Norfolk.

The rest goes to the district councils and Norfolk Police Authority, while areas served by parish councils also pay a small amount to them.

Leaders at Norwich City Council, which is currently consulting the public over a package of cuts to services, said the freeze might bring extra cash, but it eroded local decision making.

Alan Waters, deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, performance and shared services at the Labour-controlled council, said: 'In the end it's taking away the right of local people to decide their own council tax level. We have budgeted for a zero council increase, but there might have been people who would have liked the choice of maybe having an increase if it meant we could save this service or this facility.'

He said if the council did decide to increase council tax it ran the risk of the secretary of state challenging that rise, which could prove a costly process.

Not all councils have announced their council tax plans for next year. But North Norfolk District Council has said it intended to freeze council tax for the next two years.

Suffolk County Council is in the midst of a consultation process called The Budget Challenge, ahead of the authority setting its budget and council tax level for 2012/13.

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