A petition calling for St Edmundsbury Council to reinstate a £128,000 grant it has ‘stolen’ from Haverhill has been unanimously backed by the town council.
The borough council has said it is merely passing on cuts as it has had to cope with a 48 per cent reduction in funding from central Government, which has led to shared services with Forest Heath District Council and 14 per cent redundancies across both.
The Haverhill and Kedington Labour group has launched a petition calling for the borough to restore the £128,993 council tax support grant, which it is phasing out over four years by cutting a quarter – £32,233 – annually.
Cllr Gary Stroud, who is on the town council’s finance committee, spoke about the petition, which has almost 300 signatures already, as the council was agreeing its budget at Tuesday’s (February 18) meeting.
“We demand that the borough council gives us back the grant they have stolen from Haverhill,” he said.
“This town loses so much money by decision made outside of the town by people who don’t understand Haverhill and we are stuck in a corner so need to start fighting back.”
Before then he had said: “This reduction in funding follows less than two years after the borough withdrew £200,000 in support for Haverhill Arts Centre.
“It is difficult for residents to ignore the difference between this approach and the £1.2 million the borough still spends on the Apex Theatre in Bury St Edmunds, which, interestingly makes losses in excess of £700,000 per annum.
“If the losses made by The Apex were to be reduced even slightly, then this would have allowed the borough to maintain the council tax support grant to Haverhill, negating the need to make unnecessary cuts to services and rises to council tax.”
Speaking in the public forum, UKIP borough and county Cllr Tony Brown said his party were ‘reluctantly’ supporting the rise.
“If the need to raise taxes in our town was not caused by the cynical withdrawal of a large grant by the Conservative-led borough council so that they could prop up their own budget to the detriment of our town’s finances then we would not be supporting the rise, but we do not see why the people of Haverhill should lose out on much loved events in the town because of the greed of the borough.
“I know the town council Conservative group said previously they would support a small rise, and I hope they can keep their word and show full cross-party support for the budget and show St Edmundsbury that we are united in our contempt for their cut to our grant.”
The funding stream for The Apex is different to the council tax support grant, which is passed down to the borough from central Government and only introduced last year.
The borough now faces uncertainty over whether it will continue to receive that amount from Whitehall.
Cllr David Ray, St Edmundsbury cabinet member responsible for resources, said: “We do not know the exact amount we have for the council tax support grant because Government has confirmed it is wrapped up in an overall figure and not separately identified.
“We are facing a 48 per cent cut in Government revenue support grant over the next two years and, for the first time, we are saying that town and parish councils have to share some of this burden.
“Nobody in local government should think they are exempt from the decisions we all have to make about funding services – we all have to look at delivering services differently.
“Not only is St Edmundsbury passing on the grant this year, but we are also guaranteeing a level of grant for the following two years as well, even though we have no idea if we’ll get anything from the Government.
“That gives towns and parishes more certainty to plan their own financial futures.”
You can sign the petition online at is.gd/haverhillpetition or visit the arts centre or the Labour market stall on Saturdays.
A borough council spokeswoman said: “Funding for services, such as parks, bin collections, cultural and leisure facilities are paid for out of the council’s own budget.
“The council tax support grant is a grant that we are under no obligation to pass on and is part of our overall funding from the Government.
“We have chosen to pass it on, unlike many other councils.
“Haverhill Town Council chose to fund the arts centre itself by raising the funds locally from Haverhill residents.
“Every council has to work within its budgets – Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury councils have restructured services in response to the economic realities we face, saving £3.5 million between us and we now have 14 per cent fewer staff between us – a cut of more than 100,000 staff hours across West Suffolk. But we have maintained services through looking at how we can share our resources, for example.
“Government at every level, including towns and parishes, faces the same financial challenges and we all need to look at how things can be done differently.”
Brandon Lewis, Parliamentary under secretary of state for communities and local government, previously said: “We have been clear that we expect billing authorities to carry on passing on support to town councils and parishes to help mitigate any reduction in their tax base due to the local council tax support scheme”.
For all the latest news see today’s (Thursday, February 20) Echo.