A petition demanding for the £128,000 council tax support grant ‘stolen’ from Haverhill by St Edmundsbury Council to be returned has almost attracted enough signatures to be debated by full council.
The Haverhill and Kedington Labour Party launched the petition in February calling for the borough not to cut the £128,993 grant to Haverhill Town Council which is being phased out by a quarter over four years – a reduction of £32,233 a year.
Almost 2,000 people have signed the petition so far, and if that number reaches 2,500 it will be debated by St Edmundsbury Council.
Haverhill Town Council unanimously supported the petition and increased its council tax precept by 3.69 per cent – £3.98 a year on a Band D home – to mitigate for the cut.
Cllr Gary Stroud, who is on the town council’s finance committee, spoke about the petition at the 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.”
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.”
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”.
You can sign online at is.gd/haverhillpetition.
For all the latest news see today’s (Thursday, April 3) Echo.