What Suffolk County Council’s budget means for you
- Credit: ARCHANT
There are three headline figures to Suffolk County Council’s 2020/21 budget.
The first is the inescapable fact that, despite what finance chiefs are calling "one of its best settlements", taxpayers are still having to stump up an extra 4% in their council tax.
It's a legitimate question people have - if 4% was needed last year, and huge cutbacks still required, why should they need to fork out the same again this year when the settlement is good and no services are being cut?
Essentially what is on the table is a protection plan - allowing the council to build its reserves back up, reduce the likelihood of overspends in key departments - particularly children's services - and reduce the possibility of larger council tax rises in the future.
It is understood this was the point of contention that resulted in the council's previous finance cabinet member Richard Smith walking away from the job, as he would not agree to a rise of any more than 3% in total.
It's a dangerous tactic, and one that could set a precedent in future years of council tax rises during more buoyant years, which, tends to hit the low income families hardest.
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The second headline is the return of a Citizens Advice grant.
Yes, it is not as much as was previously proffered but £120,000 a year is not insignificant, and effectively marks an admission from the cabinet that it made a mistake.
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The irony of the situation was that Citizens Advice actually work very closely with the county council's Trading Standards team, and the saving generated from axing that subsidy was probably worth far less than the bad publicity it generated as many took the view that it was hitting the vulnerable hardest.
The final key to this budget is the lack of cuts. In recent years we've become used to going in to a briefing with the finance cabinet member attempting to anticipate what services would be most under threat.
That's not the case this year, and that should be welcomed when most departments have been bled dry over a decade of austerity.
What needs to happen now is a long term funding solution for authorities to ensure the kind of cuts which have caused huge problems, like the school transport review, do not happen in future.