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Vote to raise town's council tax by 7p a week almost unanimous

Wednesday, 19th February 2014.

The budget for Haverhill Town Council, including a 3.6 per cent increase in its element of council tax, was approved yesterday by all councillors except one.

Increasing the council tax precept had been a controversial policy, but the alternative was to axe some of the free activities the council promote for the benefit of the town.

Faced with a financial shortfall due to St Edmundsbury Borough Council not passing on money earmarked by Government for town and parish councils, members decided they had to go for a council tax rise.

When first informed of the shortfall they had all been in favour of covering the gap by raising council tax, but since then the town's Tory MP Matthew Hancock had met with the Conservative members to get them to oppose it.

In the end, only one of the five Conservative members did that, Cllr Clive Turner voting against approving the budget.

Cllr David Russo was not present at the meeting, but the other three, Cllrs Betty McLatchy, Phillip French and David Roach all defied their MP.

The group leader Cllr McLatchey said issues at town council level should not be political and there had been too much politics around over this one. She said she would 'vote with a social conscience'.

But she said the Tories would be urging there should be cutbacks in certain items they had identified next year.

Labour leader Cllr Maureen Byrne thanked Cllr McLatchy for her statement, but denied there had been any politicking from her side.

"It was Matthew Hancock who made it into a political debate," she said. "Before that we were working collectively together, and I remember Cllr Turner even suggesting we should go for a five per cent increase."

The increase amounts to 3.98 on a band D property, or 7p a week.

Town clerk Will Austin who had produced the budget based on options chosen by finance committee members, said some people had suggested they should subsidise a nil rise by using reserves as they had for the last two years.

He could not recommend that course of action for two reasons. First the council had to maintain healthy reserves because it was the trustee of the Arts Centre, a listed building which might at any time need major works.

Secondly the council needed to allow in its reserves for its stated aim of achieving something special for the youth of the town in the wake of youth services being cut by St Edmundsbury, and in partnership with the similar aim of ONE Haverhill.

This would only be the first of four very challenging years, Mr Austin said. The money held back by the borough was around 129,000 over four years, so the shortfall was 33,000 this year and would be another similar amount in each of the succeeding three years.

Labour had the support of the two new UKIP members in the vote, as well as three of the Tories.

In the public forum, one of Haverhill's Suffolk county councillors, Tony Brown, made a statement on the issue on behalf of UKIP.

"Our group and myself are generally against tax rises," he said, "but I would just like to say the UKIP group will be reluctantly supporting the recommendation.

"If the need to raise taxes in our town was not caused by the cynical withdrawal of a large grant by the Conservative-led borough council sao that they could prop up their own budget to the detriment of our town's finances, we would not be supporting the rise.

"But we do not see why the people of Haverhill should lose out on much-loved events in our town because of the greed of the borough."

Cllr Gary Stroud (Lab) said he echoed Cllr Brown's words and told members the Labour group had launched a petition to the borough council to demand the re-instatement of the grant which they had 'stolen' from Haverhill.

"The Government minister Brandon Lewis has said he expected all billing authorities to pass the grant on," said Cllr Stroud. "I see Breckland District Council has reconsidered its decision this week, following pressure from Thetford Town Council.

"Haverhill has lost so much money over the years from decisions made by people outside the town who simply don't understand Haverhill."

Members unanimously agreed to support the petition, once it had been established that it made no reference to any political party.

Haverhill Online News

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