On Monday this paper published survey results showing that Ipswich was hit worst in the whole region by cuts. We have all seen the effects of cuts in police numbers, in our hospital and other health services, in our schools and colleges, and even in our firefighters. This doesn’t just leave us all less safe – it also has an effect on the wealth of the whole town. This fall-out from austerity is hitting the whole of Suffolk, but Ipswich has been hit hardest. Not only have public sector pay and jobs been frozen or cut, but there has been a fall in pay and in the number of jobs in the private sector too. Despite that, people in Ipswich are the most productive workforce in the region. The average income in Ipswich is about £28,000, but the average wealth created by their work is about £56,000 per year each. Maybe it’s about time wages in Ipswich better reflected the value of the work that people do. Someone is profiting handsomely from all that work, but it isn’t necessarily the people doing it. A fairer tax system, which raises more from the very rich, would help redress the balance.
On Tuesday, Suffolk County Council Cabinet met to decide on their round of cuts – also known as “savings” – for the coming year. £12 million “savings” from adult social care – including reducing the amount available for social work teams, for helping people with learning difficulties or autism, and for supported housing. £1.2 million savings in dealing with waste, which will just go in the pot rather than being used to help increase recycling in Suffolk. Use of £1.3 million from the Public Health budget to cover activities which used to be funded by the County Council, instead of finding ways to improve and protect our public health. And perhaps most unnecessary and unhelpful of all, £184,000 “saved” by ending all funding to the Citizens Advice Bureau from September onwards.
Suffolk County Council is at the same time raising its element of the Council Tax. When the new Council Tax demands come through in April, it is worth remembering that the majority of the increase you will face will be from the County Council, with most of the rest coming from the rise in the amount for the Police.
So why are we facing cuts in services and increases in cost? The most obvious answer is that the Government has stopped funding the police and local councils properly, and so they need to raise more of their income through council tax. Some councils, like Ipswich Borough, have managed to make better investments and are able to offset their income against their costs in order to keep their council tax under control. For the police the choice is stark, and I believe that most taxpayers are willing to pay a bit more in order to reduce cuts to the police force. If we got a sensible level of police funding from the government, we could have a much more effective police force, but so far all I’ve had from the Police Minister on that is warm words.
Council tax is an unfair tax. There are not enough bands – some people living in dire straits in a tiny flat are paying the same as people in a small house with a garden. Some people living in palatial splendour with multi-million-pound incomes are paying just three times as much as a couple in a bedsit, even if they are earning three hundred times as much. I believe council tax needs to be reformed to make it fairer. And I believe that the Government should at the very least hand back the full value of the rates they raise from local businesses, so that those can contribute to the town.
With fairer tax and an end to austerity, the transformation of Ipswich could benefit all the residents and not just the already well-off. Cuts often lead to tragic consequences that cost us more in the long run. We need fewer children being taken into care, fewer criminals re-offending, fewer people ruining their health by addiction or by sleeping rough. We need more support for people to live in their own homes, faster help when people face a mental health crisis, more college courses to help disadvantaged young people build a better future. Ipswich will thrive, but it would do so quicker and more effectively if we could get a fairer settlement from the Government.