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Suffolk taxpayers 'to pay more than they should' in council tax, says ex-finance chief

PUBLISHED: 11:30 14 February 2020

Former county council finance cabinet member Richard Smith said taxpayers were being asked to foot too much on their bill. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Former county council finance cabinet member Richard Smith said taxpayers were being asked to foot too much on their bill. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Suffolk County Council

The one-time finance chief at Suffolk County Council, who walked away last year because he couldn't back another council tax rise, issued a damning assessment of his former colleagues' budget.

Work on the 2020/21 budget - which was approved on Thursday - had originally begun under the watch of Conservative councillor Richard Smith, before he resigned from the finance cabinet role in October.

It was due to a group meeting where the party was tasked with debating a rise in basic council tax rate of either 0%, 1% or 2% - one which has emerged at 2% in this budget.

But Mr Smith had vehemently argued against a rise of any more than 1%, and opted to walk away from his role when that was not forthcoming.

During an impassioned speech during Thursday's budget debate at Suffolk County Council, Mr Smith spoke for the first time about why he walked away, and apologised to Suffolk taxpayers who would be footing the bill of another rise.

He said: "When I lost I felt that I could not front budget proposals here today with which I had and still have a fundamental disagreement.

"I regret to say that disagreement has widened since I resigned.

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"The Government has given us our best financial settlement since 2010.

"But this year's good news is not, alas, reflected in the 4% increase we now ask our council taxpayers to find - don't forget that 4% is more than three times the current rate of inflation.

"In the next year this administration intends to put over £9million back into reserves, when, in my opinion, our current level of reserves is adequate to face the future.

"It is clear to me that Suffolk's council taxpayers are being asked to pay more than they should for the benefit not of extra services but for the benefit of our reserves.

"As a Conservative, I believe fundamentally in low taxes. Indeed, this group fought the last county council election on that principle.

"I regret that some of my colleagues today have conveniently forgotten that commitment we made to voters, and I am sorry for that amnesia."

County council leader Matthew Hicks and new cabinet member for finance Gordon Jones were among a host of Conservatives on Thursday who thanked Mr Smith for his work, with Mr Jones explaining the council tax rise.

He said: "There are still concerns that there are very much demand pressures in children's and young people's services, the demand in special educational needs, and the council tax rise reflects that."

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