Suffolk County Council freezes council tax - and saves £38.6m from its budget

Colin Noble
Colin Noble

Suffolk County Council has stood by its pledge to freeze its share of council tax for a fourth consecutive year.

County councillors debated the authority’s 2014/15 budget on Thursday (Feb 13), before making the decision to freeze council tax for a fourth year in a row.

It means that Suffolk residents will not pay any more than they did in 2011/12, honouring the pledge made by the council’s leader Mark Bee.

Whilst delivering a fourth council tax freeze in as many years, the budget sees front line services protected whilst 22 separate savings totalling £38.6 million are made, including the following largest savings:

Annual savings from the new Energy from Waste plant at Great Blakenham, programmed to open in December 2014. Saving: £8 million.

Finding additional savings from within Adult and Community Services that enable the council to protect specific budgets that ensure the growing number of people requiring care are able to access the services they need. Saving: £6.4 million.

The council’s contract with BT for the provision of ICT, HR, finance and public access closing in May 2014 and bringing the services and staff back in house.

A programme of service transformation and modernisation will follow. Saving: £9 million.

Cutting the council’s contingency budget and budgets for major projects, management of change and capital financing - £4 million.

Reviewing Supporting People services, e.g. help for marginalised adults, young people, gypsies and travellers and sheltered accommodation to identity areas where savings will have the least impact. Saving: £2 million.

A review of Children’s Centre provision, looking at how we currently utilise our buildings to deliver services. Saving: £1.5 million.

The savings proposals are the first part of a four year plan that will eventually see £156 million saved, equivalent to 30 per cent of the council’s current annual budget (excluding schools).

This on top of more than £90 million saved since April 2011.

These savings are necessary because government funding for local councils is reducing and demand for services is increasing.

Councillor Colin Noble, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “We’re faced with a challenging time ahead, with the restructuring of public finances it’s key that every penny from the tax payer is spent where it has absolute valued need.

“These significant savings that have been agreed will require continued firm management in 2014/15 and future years.

“Every department within the council understands the financial squeeze on public services and are committed to ensuring these savings are made, whilst trying to protect our much valued front line.

“This budget agreement delivers on that commitment.

“Tough decisions have had to be made to address the speed at which funding has been withdrawn from the county council. Looking forward, further reductions will be coming our way.

“I’m certain that as long as the county council is open with the public about the challenges we’re facing and works with its partners and staff to find ways of overcoming them, we will be able to manage these changes as effectively as possible.”

The 2014/15 budget has been designed to enable the council to continue to manage the unprecedented financial challenges that face the whole public sector.

An exhaustive public and stakeholder consultation was carried out by Ipsos Mori, which saw over 4000 Suffolk residents engaged and asked how they think their money should be spent, this preceded a series of meetings to report and discuss the findings.

Results from the survey indicate that public opinion is in line with the agreed savings. Education, roads and transport and household waste sites should not be reduced. All of these services are being maintained.

The survey showed that 81 per cent of residents are satisfied with their local area, with 8 per cent dissatisfied.

With 48 per cent of people satisfied with the way Suffolk County Council runs its services, 17 per cent dissatisfied.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement delivered in December 2012 indicated that the Government’s deficit reduction programme will be extended a further year to include 2017/18.

Significant reductions in public spending are expected and these are severe for local government.