Delight at council tax freeze

Thursday, 4 December, 2008

CAMPAIGNERS last night praised a Suffolk council after it emerged finance chiefs were planning to freeze next year's council tax.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council is the first authority in the county to declare it has planned a 0% rise for 2009.

Last night its leaders and campaign groups urged other councils in the area to try and follow suit.

Although St Edmundsbury's share of the overall council tax accounts for a small part of residents' overall bill, the move was welcomed by Protest Against Council Tax in Suffolk (PACTS).

Reg Hartles, the group's spokesman, said: 'This is very good news and I think it shows good management - I hope it sets the precedent for others to follow.'

St Edmundsbury's leader John Griffiths has called on council staff to do everything possible to deliver a council tax freeze without reducing any services.

'We want to help hard pressed council tax payers in these very difficult times and believe that the simplest and most effective way we can reach the maximum number of residents is to ensure that every household in the borough pays no more than they did a year ago,' he said. 'We don't believe in gimmicks or lengthy discussions: this is firm and immediate action.

'Although St Edmundsbury too faces financial challenges, I am asking councillors across all parties to support this move. Furthermore I hope that other Suffolk councils, particularly the county council - whose proportion of our residents' council tax is nearly 80% - will now follow our lead.

'St Edmundsbury has managed its finances carefully in easier times, which is why we are in a position to help our residents now. Last year we pledged to keep council tax rises below inflation but I am delighted that, in this very challenging climate, we are in a position to improve on that, and can freeze rates for all bands for next year's council tax.'

David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said he was delighted with the move.

'St Edmundsbury spent wisely and put money aside while the economy was in good shape,' he said. 'Now, as we go into a recession, the council can afford to give local people some respite from spiralling bills.

'These are bleak times for the economy and many constituents I speak to are struggling to make ends meet. Hopefully the announcement will make their lives that bit easier over the next year.

'A freeze on council tax is a remarkable achievement and I applaud everyone involved at St Edmundsbury for making this possible.'

A spokesman for the county council said it would be doing everything possible to keep any council tax hike to a minimum but warned it was too early to say what next year's figure might be because its budget was still going through various committees and no final decisions had been made.

Babergh District Council plans to increase council tax by no more than 3.5% next year.

Current council tax levels for St Edmundsbury:

Band A: £114.66

Band B: £133.77

Band C: £152.88

Band D: £171.99

Band E: £210.21

Band F: £248.43

Band G: £286.65

Band H: £343.98