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Borough may do a U-turn over over Haverhill's cash

Thursday, 19th June 2014.

Pressure from Government, local MPs and the practice of other councils has forced St Edmundsbury to review a scheme which was to take £129,000 away from Haverhill over four years.

The council tax support grant given by Government to help parish and town councils cope with a change to new calculations of council tax, and previously passed on via St Edmundsbury, was withheld this year.

The prospect was that the whole lot would be withheld over four years, and Haverhill Town Council protested vehemently. Labour councillors set up an online petition.

Haverhill was not alone as Brandon and Mildenhall also kicked up, along with parish councils across both St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath.

Haverhill's MP Matthew Hancock urged the borough to pass the money on, at the same time as opposing the town council's precept increase to cover the shortfall.

Now, following 'on-going discussions with central Government', the two west Suffolk council leaders have decided to review financial support for towns and parishes for the financial year 2016/17 onwards.

St Edmundsbury leader, Cllr John Griffiths, said: “Our towns and parishes, like Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury, need certainty about their future funding so last year, once it was confirmed the Government was cutting our revenue support grant funding by 49 per cent over two years, we decided to continue supporting our local town and parish councils but in line with this financial reality.

"On top of a range of other grants that St Edmundsbury makes available, we are also now providing additional funding through individual locality budgets for borough councillors so they can grant money for, and in, our communities.

"Next year, when we have a better picture of future Government funding, we will review the position.”

The Council Tax Support Grant is included in the Government’s overall funding to borough and district councils who must then decide how much to pass on to town and parish councils.

Cllr Griffiths said: “Matthew Hancock very helpfully organised a meeting for us with the local government minister Brandon Lewis to clarify the position and the fact that the amount councils receive for town and parish support is not ring-fenced.

"Following this meeting, and once we know more about future settlements, we have committed to review both West Suffolk councils’ support for town and parish councils.

"Meanwhile, we look forward to continuing, and indeed developing further, the strong working relationships we enjoy with our towns and parishes so that we can tackle future, as well as current, financial realities together in the service of our residents.”

Last year both councils put forward a four-year plan which saw the council tax support grant, introduced by the Government to help offset money towns and parishes could lose through council tax benefit changes, being gradually phased out.

Forest Heath leader Cllr James Waters said: “Over the past year we have listened to comments, spoken to the Government minister, and researched what other councils across the country are doing.

"As a result of gathering this information we think it is appropriate to review the support at its halfway point, when we will have more financial certainty from the Government.”

Mr Hancock welcomed the news and said he had been working to resolve the situation, so council tax can be frozen. During a visit by the minister responsible, Brandon Lewis, arranged by Mr Hancock, Mr Lewis said that the level of the grant would be reviewed in 2015.

Mr Hancock said: “I am delighted by this breakthrough for local people. I have followed the issue of council tax closely, doing everything I can to help local families with the cost of living.

"I organised the meeting with Brandon Lewis to ensure both the town councils and the West Suffolk councils were getting a fair deal.

"This subsequent review of the Council Tax Support Grant is good news for West Suffolk, good news for Haverhill, and good news for council taxpayers.

"I now hope the review can ensure that, within what is a tough spending environment, all councils can live within their means and freeze council tax.”

Haverhill Online News

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