Budgets: The County budget was passed on 14th Feb.
The headline announcement was a promise to freeze council tax for four years. In a time of austerity we don’t want demands on our income to rise but this looks like a pre-election give away. Who will suffer and will other changes make it possible?
In summary, estimates of cost increases on a £511m net budget are Inflation £7.7m, Demand and Demography £12.4m and “other Changes” £21.3m lifting the total to £552.4m.
Government grants and council taxes total £527.4m, so the county must save £24.9m of which £20.1m is “saving” of estimated increases.
Headline “savings” include: improve efficiency and remove unnecessary processes £9.7m, target resources in children’s services £2.5m, adult care in depth review £7m.
Obviously the efficiency improvements and removal of unnecessary processes are long overdue. My biggest concerns are the care review and targeting in children’s services. These can be disguised cuts that increase the problems suffered by vulnerable people.
I proposed a small addition to the budget to provide some focused immediate action to help schools improve pupil progress and attainment. After eight years the administration has moved us from the top third to third from bottom in national league tables. It was rejected and Suffolk children must wait for action.
GCSE rankings: Suffolk has now dropped to 141 out of 152 authorities for GCSE results. The County Council claims that this is down to exams boards changing grade boundaries, but it simply isn’t good enough.
It is extremely concerning how low Suffolk is ranked nationally for education, and this is something which clearly has not been addressed by the administration.
Road Safety: The first phase of improvements to road markings at the Pound Lane accident spot are now in place but the police are still resisting a reduction in the speed limit. Improved centre markings and movement of the 50mph markers towards Bramford are yet to come.
You will have seen work progressing on Bramford Road by the incinerator, as the road signs for the 40mph limit and the urban clearway are put in place. This should give the police additional tools to control the lorry parking that is making life difficult.
Councillors Guy McGregor and Lisa Chambers who are responsible for highways and waste will meet with local businesses to try to find a cooperative solution to the problems that protects both our environment and jobs.
District Council: Councillors are still defining “priorities” for the future. However, a balanced budget with a zero council tax rise will be possible that adds slightly to reserves. There will be no new dramatic cuts but there are still redundancies to come as the transformation programme is completed.
This year there will be changes in council tax rebates and housing benefits, reductions for excess rooms and movement towards a single payment instead of a range of benefits.
The effect of the caps involved in these will make finance even more challenging for many families. The impact on local councils will not be trivial as small amounts of council tax will be difficult and expensive to collect.