St Edmundsbury Council approves budget

Haverhill and Kedington Labour group petition against St Edmundsbury cuts
Haverhill and Kedington Labour group petition against St Edmundsbury cuts

A budget which sees almost £130,000 of grant funding gradually removed from Haverhill but prevents a council tax precept rise has been voted through.

St Edmundsbury Council approved its budget, which had been recommended by cabinet, with 31 voting for and seven against on Tuesday (February 25).

This makes 2014/15 the fifth financial year out of six that the borough council has not increased its council tax precept, though there was anger from Haverhill at the removal of the council tax support grant of £128,993, which it is being phased out over four years by cutting a quarter – £32,233 – annually.

This cut led to Haverhill Town Council agreeing to increase its precept by 3.69 per cent – 7p a week or £3.98 a year for a Band D home – to mitigate for the cut.

The town had not upped its precept for three years. The Haverhill and Kedington Labour group had launched a petition calling for the ‘stolen’ money to be returned, which was unanimously supported by the town council. If 2,500 signatures are gained it will be presented to the borough.

St Edmundsbury deputy leader Cllr Sara Mildmay-White said: “These are challenging times for local authorities as Government funding is cut and income from invested capital is less than inflation.

“St Edmundsbury has a proud track record of sound financial management and innovative use of funding.

“We are able to set out plans to freeze council tax for the fifth time in six years, while continuing to invest to the benefit of our communities.

“Our willingness to invest to earn, for example with the Haverhill Cinema complex, the Arc in Bury and substantial investment in sporting and leisure facilities, has levered growth and brought benefits for the whole borough.

“We are confident that by meeting these challenges head on we can continue to provide excellent value for money and create the best possible future for our people and businesses.”

The borough has invested £20 million in Haverhill town centre and the cinema complex and gained a further £4m from Local Enterprise Partnerships, and has invested £20m in Bury St Edmunds town centre and £100m in The Arc.

Cllr Tony Brown, who voted against the budget with fellow Haverhill Cllrs Gordon Cox and Maureen Byrne, said it seemed like ‘things are too much for Haverhill but anything goes for Bury’.

“The borough has prop up its budget by forcing Haverhill to put its up,” he said.

“We were faced with a choice of giving up much loved events in the town or putting up the precept by 7p a week, so there was no real choice.

“This just highlights the divide between Bury and Haverhill.

“Gordon highlighted the fact the borough has spent £150,000 on arts groups in Bury and there isn’t that level of support for Haverhill.

“We’re crying out for the corn exchange to become a heritage centre and have had no help at all.

“It’s even down as a Vision 2031 aspiration and it does seem that everything is too much for Haverhill but there’s blank cheque and anything goes in Bury, and it creates resentment and rightly so.

“This is what happens when you have such a huge majority in the borough council, but we hope there will be a sea change and this will come back to haunt them when we emphasise this before the May elections.”

The borough had said the grant cut was because it faced a 48 per reduction, and that the council tax support grant is rolled into a central Government grant which it was not under obligation to pass on and was unsure if it would be receiving the grant at all in 2015/16.

Haverhill town clerk Will Austin said the amount was clearly identifiable.

He outlined the many areas where the council spends on Bury and not Haverhill.

He said Haverhill and other parishes ‘don’t actually want your money in the long run’, adding: “What we do want, and what we can reasonably expect, is that while the Government is giving you money to pass on to parishes, you pass it on in full.”

He finished by saying that were the borough to continue to pass on the grant he would ‘immediately call a town council meeting to agree a zero per cent precept increase in Haverhill’.

For all the latest news see today’s (Thursday, February 27) Echo.