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Council to buy to offset cuts

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Latest news from the Suffolk Free Press, suffolkfreepress.co.uk, @sfpsudbury on Twitter

Householders will not face a rise in council tax despite budget cuts that will drive a new period of investment from a district council.

Tasked with having to save £4.3million over the next three years, Babergh District Council is proposing to freeze its council tax for 2015/16.

Instead, its new budget will focus on investing in new homes and council-owned properties, as well as continuing to streamline services and carry out “priority-based budgeting”.

A grant from the Government, which is currently worth £2.2million to the council, is set to be withdrawn, forcing large-scale cuts and new investment plans.

Much of this focus will be placed on the building of new homes.

A new homes bonus scheme offered by the Government will play a key part in this, with the council keen to benefit as much as possible from the incentive.

“The more houses we build, the more bonus we get,” said Simon Barrett, vice-chairman of Babergh’s strategy committee. “That replaces the lack of a central grant.”

While council tax will not be increasing, rent for council home owners will, with a recommended rise of three per cent.

This equates to an average rise of £2.68 a week, which Mr Barrett claimed was still a highly competitive rate.

“To get a council house is a bit like winning the lottery – it’s such good value,” he said.

Council homes are a key area of interest for the council, with 26 new properties being built next year.

It is hoped investment in property – both through the building of new council homes and possible investment into private property for the rental market – could unlock new revenue in a time when central funding is disappearing.

“We are having to replace it [Government grants] with different forms of income,” said Mr Barrett. “We are looking for new schemes to generate income.

“If we don’t do that, we will just end up having to cut services.”

Some council fees could also increase by two per cent. This, however, will not affect parking charges.

Mr Barrett, also a Sudbury town councillor, said he believed Babergh saw free parking as an investment in the town rather than a cost.

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