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UKIP to support town council in raising council tax

Thursday, 5th December 2013.

Haverhill's UKIP councillors have pledged to support their Labour colleagues in raising council tax to cover a cash shortfall imposed by Conservatives in St Edmundsbury.

Conservatives met with the town's MP Matthew Hancock at the weekend and agreed to oppose any attempt to raise council tax.

The potential increase, four per cent a year (about 5 on a band D bill) for four years, has been considered because the Labour-controlled town council faces a funding shortfall over four years of more than 125,000, caused by a recent decision of St Edmundsbury Borough Council which Mr Hancock has said he would like to see reversed.

The shortfall would mean popular events in Haverhill might have to be curtailed or cancelled and town councillors had seemed united in their wish to avoid that.

But after the Conservative councillors met Mr Hancock, the MP issued a press release announcing they would oppose any council tax rise as 'unacceptable'.

The Conservatives lost a town council seat to UKIP recently and face another by-election in January, before the level of council tax is set for next year.

UKIP Suffolk county councillor Tony Brown said he and his colleagues would support the council tax rise and fight the Tory move.

He said: "Matthew Hancock should be concentrating on doing his job saving the country money at Westminster by cutting the 12billion a year we give away in foreign aid, the billions that are spent on wind farms that have pushed up energy bills in this country to the point where our elderly people are now dying in industrial quantities because they cannot afford to heat their homes and cutting the 56million pounds a day we pay into Europe before he starts attacking Haverhill Town Council who are having savage cuts imposed on them by the Conservative-led council at Bury.

"He should be fighting for us in Parliament not getting involved in town council politics just because there is a local by election coming up.

"I and UKIP will fight with the town council to protect as many of the Haverhill events as possible from these Tory cuts!"

Labour town mayor Cllr Roger Andre said: "The intervention of Matthew Hancock MP in the matter of determining the precept for Haverhill Town Council is unwarranted and entirely inappropriate.

"The setting of the local precept is not a matter for an MP to influence and it is impossible to determine how an MP would have the necessary detail of local financing to offer any advice in this area.

"It should be noted that Haverhill Town Council have yet to determine the precept for 2014/15 and have instructed the town clerk to investigate options, including the implications of replacing the lost Council Tax Support Grant by increasing the precept.

"Early indications were advised to the Town Council that a reduction of 32,333 for 2014/15, after identified efficiencies elsewhere, would require an increase of approximately 3.9% - roughly equivalent to 5 per annum for a Band D property.

"The issue has arisen from the decision of the Conservative-led St Edmundsbury Borough Council to withdraw transfer of Government funding over the next four years. The funding to St Edmundsbury will not cease or reduce.

"The basis for the Government funding of the Council Tax Support Grant is to meet a reduction in the tax base resulting from changes to the Council Tax Benefit system.

"As the tax base grows, due to additional housing provision in the town, the impact on town council finances will diminish.

"It is, therefore, difficult to estimate the precept requirement for future years. Nonetheless the impact for 2014/15 is a loss of 32,333 which would substantially reduce the budget available for provision of events and services.

"The decision to freeze the precept in recent years has been enabled by securing efficiencies inflationary pressures on our annual budgets have been absorbed and continuing to restrict any precept increase solely to meet this shortfall in funding will still require us to absorb inflationary costs.

"Meanwhile the Conservative-led borough council uses the funding destined for parish and town councils to fund their precept freeze. Our Conservative councillors on the town council may wish to consider who they are representing when they decide on the issue."

Town clerk Will Austin explained the town council's position: "The town council has yet to set its council tax for next year, and faces some challenges in balancing a difficult financial situation with a strong desire to maintain the range of services and support it offers to the community.

"Councillors have asked for details of the impact of a number of options ranging from no increase at all, to a rise of just under four per cent (or about 8p per week for Band D Council Tax payers) to cover the loss of support funding that has been withdrawn by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

"These options will be looked at early in the New Year before a decision is made. We note Matthew Hancock's intervention in this matter and his support for the reversal of this cut by the borough council which could negate the need for an increase, which by careful management we have avoided for the last three years."

Haverhill Online News

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