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Council votes in favour of tax freeze budget

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

Babergh District Council has confirmed a freeze in council tax after councillors voted in favour of the budget for the next financial year.

The 2015/16 budget, which includes a freeze on council tax and an increase on council house rents, was accepted by the joint full council on Tuesday.

The document details how the district council is going to operate financially as the Government begins to withdraw its revenue support grant of £2.3million over the next four to five years.

As the main source of income changes, the council will become increasingly reliant on business rates revenue and incentivised funding, such as the new homes bonus.

With an estimated savings requirement of £4.3million over the next four years, the district council will be faced with challenges and tough decisions in order to fill the funding gap.

Council leader Jennie Jenkins said she was pleased that the authority had been able to freeze council tax for the third consecutive year.

“We are determined that, despite core funding from government decreasing, we will not be increasing our burden on local residents and businesses,” she said.

“At this moment in time, we are fortunate that we do not anticipate any immediate changes in service levels but, as always, we will need to consider how we meet the tough financial challenges of the future.

“Those savings and efficiencies already made, through our integration with Mid Suffolk District Council and our single-staffing structure, mean that we are constantly aiming to achieve more with less.”

Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils have been operating with integrated staffing in order to reduce costs and inefficiencies, although they do still occupy separate council buildings.

The budget indicates that Babergh is in a tougher financial position than Mid Suffolk, with a greater budget gap.

Despite the vast majority of votes in favour of the budget, concerns were voiced over the council’s decision to increase council house rents by an average of £2.41 per week in order to maintain and increase housing.

Jack Owen, district councillor for Sudbury, described the rise in council house rent as “morally unjust”.

“The area I was concerned about was the fact that council tenants are going to have to stomach a 2.7 per cent increase in their rents,” he said.

“It’s unfair that the people who are poorer members of our society are going to pay rent increases.

“They are going to have to cough up while everybody else is being given a break.”

There will also be an increase of five per cent for sheltered communal service charges and an eight per cent decrease in sheltered heating and utility charges.

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