Suffolk Coastal has agreed to freeze its Council Tax for a second successive year but warned that the severe financial pressures facing it means that it will have to continue its drive to find even more new and efficient ways to provide its services.
Tonight’s (Thursday) Council meeting agreed to keep Suffolk Coastal’s share of the Council Tax at £149.40 for a Band D home. The County Council has also frozen its charge but the figure set by the Police and most of the district’s town and parish councils have risen so residents will still see a slight increase in their bills.
“With our long-term commitment to providing the value for money services that our residents want, I think we have a proud record of delivering efficiencies while also maintaining and even improving services,” said Cllr Ray Herring, Leader of Suffolk Coastal.
“Our success in achieving £10m of efficiencies in recent years shows that we have been prepared to take radical action to reduce costs, but there is no hiding the stark situation facing us now. Without the £2.1m savings we will have to achieve over the next 12 months we would have had a £2.8m gap by 2015 between our income and the cost of our service, largely because of the 30 per cent cut in Government grants, and we will still have to find another £1.5m by 2015/16.
“We have had to review every service, sensibly increase our income and decide whether we can still afford some of what we do. These austere times are forcing even tougher decisions but we hope to work with others to maintain as many as possible of the services our communities want and need,” added Cllr Herring.
Suffolk Coastal’s pioneering partnership with Waveney is playing a key part in helping both Councils meet the financial challenges facing them. Last month’s proposed shared planning service across the district will bring total savings from sharing services across the two Councils to around £5m.
Since the Councils first agreed to have a shared Chief Executive, more and more of their services have become shared, helping to reduce costs and generate further efficiencies in the way services are delivered.
“We have had no choice but to reduce the number of staff, particularly senior managers, and we will continue to review every aspect of what we do so we can match our increasingly limited resources with the priorities of the Government and our residents.
“To help us face the challenges, the Council is also adopting a new business plan, which will address not just our financial issues, but also the Government’s increasing emphasis on the Big Society and growth. We will be giving communities more say and control in local decisions while recognising the economic necessity of creating more jobs.
“It is inevitable this Council and its services will have to change and our goal is to be even more modern and progressive, working in partnership with our communities to meet their priority needs. Now, more than ever, we will all have to work together for a better future for our district,” added Cllr Herring.
The importance of partnership working can be seen from the savings identified for next year, with over £450,000 from sharing services with Waveney, while the links with Suffolk Coastal Services Ltd will see nearly £800,000 saved by increased efficiencies. An additional £350,000 of income will be generated by the first increase in town centre car parking charges for six years.
Despite the latest savings, the Council still expects to have a £500,000 budget gap in 2013/14, rising to £1.1m in 2014/15 and up to £1.5m by 2015/16. Significant changes to the way the Government finances all councils in future are expected to continue to decrease the Council’s income.
In recent years, Suffolk Coastal has achieved savings and efficiencies of over £10m, and been a pioneer in shared working with Waveney with one-third fewer senior management posts. The Council has also won £20m of external funding for projects such as coastal defences, has successfully protected priority services, is in the top ten for recycling rates in the country, with many of its other services also ranked as top performers, and is still debt free.
Suffolk Coastal keeps 10 per cent of the Council Tax it collects from local residents, with 75.6 per cent going to the County Council, 11.1 per cent to the police and the remaining 3.3 per cent going to town and parish councils. In addition to the near £3m cut in Government grants and the challenges of rising inflation, the Council is also seeing increased demand for its services because of higher unemployment, an ageing population, changes in Council Tax and housing benefit management.
The charges for a Band D home in Suffolk Coastal in 2012/13 will be £1,126.53 for Suffolk County Council, £166.77 for Suffolk Police Authority, £149.40 for Suffolk Coastal District Council – a total of £1,442.70 to which will be added the charge for the local town or parish council which varies from zero to £112.86. The average Band D Council Tax bill in the district is £1,491.17.