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Council tax increase for Forest Heath homes as first budget for new West Suffolk Council agreed

By Jason Noble, Local Democracy Reporter

Homes in the Forest Heath district will see a small council tax increase from April as the first budget was agreed for the new West Suffolk Council being established.

The ‘shadow council’ – councillors from both the existing St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils – met on Tuesday, February 19, where the budget was approved.

Forest Heath homes will see a small increase in council tax of £4.95 (for a Band D property) for the year, while St Edmundsbury’s level remains unchanged.

West Suffolk House. (7333882)
West Suffolk House. (7333882)

That is as a result of a plan to align the two existing councils’ levels over a seven year period for the new West Suffolk Council, which replaces the two existing authorities from May.

Elsewhere a 100 per cent council tax discount for care leavers aged 16-25 and who live alone was approved.

In a joint statement, cabinet members for resources and performance Stephen Edwards (Forest Heath) and Ian Houlder (St Edmundsbury), said: “This is a budget for the new West Suffolk Council that invests in the future of our area.

“The proposals being put forward sets a balanced budget for the next two years. Creating the new council not only helps cement that strong financial position but means the new authority will be in a better place to seize investment and income opportunities while being able to drive prosperity, jobs and the economy for our communities and businesses.

“It also means that we will be in a better position to face some of the financial challenges that councils across the UK are already facing.”

Recommendations for councillor allowances under the new authority were also agreed at the meeting, which will save more than £30,000, although must be agreed once the new council is formed following the May elections.

A small increase in the basic allowance to £5,900 will be seen – up by between £441 and £763 on 2018/19 levels, but with a reduction in the number of councillors and half as many cabinet members and committee chairs who receive additional allowances, the overall saving will be £30,566.

The councils said a balance was needed between saving on allowances and making sure appropriate remuneration was given for the councillors.

Ruth Bowman and Carol Bull, portfolio holders for future governance at Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury respectively, said: “The [independent remuneration] panel’s proposals will save more than £30,000 in relation to what is the current amount being paid by both councils.

“This means in future each taxpayer will pay £2.10 per year for the basic allowance rather than £2.14.

“We agree with the chair of the independent panel that the total allowances should cost less than the original combined budget but councillors should be paid appropriately as we also understand the heavy commitment needed to be a councillor which is a 24 hours a day role helping solve complex issues and sometimes dealing with very vulnerable people.”

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