Where should axe fall?

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CONTROVERSIAL ideas on how St Edmundsbury Borough Council can save a further £3.5 million through spending cuts and charges are to be put out to public consultation.

The authority is embarking on its most detailed consultation ever, involving meetings with the public, an online questionnaire and sending letters to 2,000 voters chosen at random from its 83,000 electorate seeking views on 19 different ways to save money or increase income.

The council is spending £10,000 employing a research company to undertake the consultation.

The opinions of the public and those of other groups and parish councils will then help shape the decisions of the council as it looks to cut another £3.5 million from its £65 million budget over the next two years

However, the consultation will not ask people whether they are in favour of putting up Council Tax to save services and keep other charges down.

Leader of the council Cllr John Griffiths said: “Nobody has got all the answers. Some of these ideas will undoubtedly be controversial.”

Those ideas cover everything from the cost of spending a penny to the charges the council makes for parking.

Cuts in Government grants means the council has little option but to either reduce costs or find ways to increase income.

It could involve increasing the cost of long-stay parking in Bury from £2 to £2.20 for four hours and short stay (two hours) from £2.50 to £2.70 – to net the council another £150,000. Blue badge holders may also have to pay to park to bring in another in £100,000.

And it would raise £20,000 if people were charged 20p to use the currently free toilets in Bury’s Abbey Gardens.

In his introduction to the questionnaire, which will go out in the next week, Cllr Griffiths tells people the reasons they are being involved.

He says: “I am proud that St Edmundsbury this year froze your Council Tax again; and that we have already saved £3.5 million over the past two years while maintaining, or indeed improving, your services.

“While this has not been easy, the current economic situation now means we have to dig even deeper and perhaps fundamentally change the ways we do things, and for, our communities.”

As part of savings, the council has seen staff reduced by 200 to 500 and frozen Council Tax in three out of the last four years.

The council has also invested £20 million in Bury and Haverhill in recent years.