Matthew Hancock MP was accuesed of ‘sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong’ and politicising the debate about a council tax rise.
Speaking at the start of the debate to agree Haverhill Town Council’s budget on Tuesday (February 18), which included a precept rise of 3.69 per cent to end the reliance on reserves and mitigate for a £128,000 grant cut, town Tory leader Betty McLatchy said: “This has turned into a political campaign when it should be done with a social conscience.”
Mr Hancock previously labelled Labour’s planned tax hike as ‘completely unacceptable’ and ‘inflation busting’ saying he and other local Tories would fight it.
“Labour’s plan to hit people in Haverhill with a hike in Council Tax is completely unacceptable which is why local Conservatives will fight it at every step,” he had said.
“The entire public sector has to live within its means when we are dealing with a deficit left to us by a Labour government.
“Haverhill Town Council cannot think it is exempt from this.
“It is down to Councillors to find savings rather than burdening taxpayers in Haverhill.”
At that time Cllr McLatchy said: “We should fight this increase tooth and nail.
“I have always believed that we have a responsibility to protect taxpayers from increased bills which is why Haverhill’s Conservatives will be opposing this increase.”
Deputy mayor Maureen Byrne said the skills minsiter was responsible for the political schism, saying: “Your Tory MP made this a political debate.
“Before he poked his nose in where he shouldn’t there was no politics involved. He made a statement that his town councillors would vote against it and that’s when it became political.
“Clive Turner had said we may have to consider a five per cent rise.
“It got political because Hancock made it political.
“We have moved on from there and I hope you vote on behalf of the town as that’s what we’re all concerned about.”
Clive Turner was the only Tory not to defy Mr Hancock as all the other councillors voted through the rise.
The tax rise will work out as 7p per week for a Band D home in Haverhill – £3.98 per year – from £107.77 to £111.75.
The Haverhill and Kedington Labour group has launched a petition calling for the borough to restore the £128,993 council tax support grant – you can sign the petition online at is.gd/haverhillpetition or visit the arts centre or the Labour market stall on Saturdays.
For all the latest news see today’s (Thursday, February 20) Echo.