Budgets: As the Government strives to get the nation’s finances back on track after the excesses in the banking community but seeks to maintain a fair society, local government is taking a large share of the pain.
The settlements for the County and District Councils were released on the 19th of December. Council tax will remain frozen but the way Government hands back business rates and calculates grants is changing dramatically. We are told that the County will be about 2% worse off and Mid Suffolk 0.9% better off overall this year but there are a number of grants which tend to be rolled into the base figures without increasing the totals. Councillors have not yet received the financial officer’s final analysis of the impact on Suffolk.
I want to see sound budgets which respond to the financial challenges and drive up efficiency but I don’t want to see the difficulties overestimated. Many council services go to vulnerable people and we don’t want to increase their problems more than necessary.
Road Safety: The local highways management team has I understand persuaded Guy McGregor that a review of speed limits on the B1113 between Stowmarket and Sproughton is more appropriate than the review of highways issues in the Gt. Blakenham area that he proposed.
The new plan is “to review what data we already hold regarding recorded speeds and accidents. This may show a need for some further surveys”. Highways, the Police and I will then meet “to see where we are happy with the speed limits and where changes are thought to be beneficial”.
That appears satisfactory to me and will I hope come to a rapid conclusion. It has been a long time since our spate of accidents.
Concessionary fares: Cabinet, after our call in to Scrutiny, looked again at concessionary fares for older and disabled people. Despite the input from The Equality and Human Rights Commission it decided not to spend the relatively small sums needed to restore concessions to levels closer to those that the district councils provided. They will continue to under-spend the Government provided budget for concessions.
Park & Ride: The County Council, just before Christmas, launched a short consultation about the Park and Ride service. The deadline has passed but views are still valuable. Condensed versions of the three questions are:
- · Would it be acceptable to use buses that are not dedicated to Park and Ride?
- · If the services did not to offer a direct cross-town link would this seriously disadvantage you as a passenger?
- · If staff were not present on site would this have an impact on your journey? Buildings could be used to provide rest rooms without staff being present at all times.
Council Rents. At the Mid Suffolk Executive meeting in January a 4% rise for Council rents and a 5.3% rise in service charges at sheltered accommodation was passed. Lib Dems, Suffolk Together and the Greens felt that such a rise was unreasonable when benefits are being capped at 1%, council tax is fixed and many salaries are frozen. However, the need for a sound long term business plan, something we all agree, and investment, including replacements for houses sold under the Right to Buy, took precedence.