Last year's council tax freeze was very good politics, even if it wasn't necessarily very good for local government finances. Any council freezing its precept was given additional funding equivalent to a 2.5% increase. I say 'any', although my fellow parish councillors will note that we weren't included in that offer.
I suspect that the long-term implication - that if the 'bribe' stopped, or was stagnant in cash terms, then precepts would need to be increased rather more than inflation - did not go unnoticed. So, here it is again this year. What this means, effectively, is that local authorities who have taken the money will have seen their precept fall by about 8% in real terms over two years.
One solution to the medium-term problem is to divest local services, or to charge more for them. And that's where my problems start...
Last year, the amount charged to my Parish Council by Mid Suffolk District Council for cutting the grass on the village green went up by 13%. It had been subsidised in the past, we were told, so we swallowed hard, made cuts elsewhere, and lived with it. This year, they have decided to charge us for emptying the dog waste and litter bins. It isn't a huge amount, about 1.4% of our total budget, but it will need to be found.
We also pay for street lighting, and the cost of electricity is going up... fast. We need to budget for that too. We are being asked to take on the Local Nature Reserve, as Mid Suffolk District Council have pulled out. Add in salaries, maintenance and insurance, and before you know it, you're talking about a precept increase in excess of 5%.
Our reserves are somewhat lower than I would like, a view shared by our Parish Clerk, so I'd like us to run a budget surplus to bring that up to par, and we have no funds to cover replacement street lights which, eventually, we will need.
Meanwhile, Suffolk County Council and Mid Suffolk District Council, armed with their bribe from George and Eric, will set a 0% council tax increase, which will make the 8% that I fear will be necessary for Creeting St Peter rather unpalatable. And even then, I can look forward to a future of squeezes from above and from the past...