Council tax bills will go up by nearly 5 per cent
Familiar row over budget as councillors clash over spending plans
04 March, 2021 — By Richard Osley
Finance chief Labour councillor Richard Olszewski
CAMDEN has set the maximum rise in council tax allowed, with bills set to go up by nearly 5 per cent.
The Labour majority at the Town Hall said its budget plans were needed after the demands and pressures of the coronavirus crisis, which has required more services to help those in need but seen less income coming in. The breakdown of the bills will see council tax go up by 1.99 per cent and the social care precept rise by 3 per cent.
Finance chief Councillor Richard Olszewski told a budget-setting meeting on Monday that attempts to make sure the council had been there for everyone who needed it during the Covid crisis had “been done at a time of uncertainty over council funding, with a budget that has been cut by half since 2010”.
He said that Camden had already been left with a need to find £30 million in savings – but now there was an extra £9 million hole caused by paying for extra Covid help.
But the Conservative opposition said there was no need for a full council tax rise and that their own “bounce back budget amendment” would cost 1 percent less for residents – and still find money for laptops and wifi connections for children struggling to learn, more “streateries” – new al fresco dining areas – to help the restaurant trade and new police bases in Hampstead and Swiss Cottage.
They said they wanted to make back office savings such as reducing spending on communications and trade union facilities, as well as renting out some of Camden’s 5PS offices in King’s Cross.
Finance spokesman Councillor Andrew Parkinson said: “When personal finances have taken a hit, we should not be demanding for the seventh year in a row the legal maximum rise [in council tax].”
Group leader Councillor Oliver Cooper said he believed that some Labour councillors wanted to one day become MPs, telling Cllr Olszewski that “he had failed his audition on the national stage” by criticising the government’s settlement for local councils – noting that no Labour MP had voted against it in parliament.
The Liberal Democrats said that Camden should release £2.8 million from its reserves. Part of this would be spent on more youth workers to reduce the risk of street violence, while other spending was suggested for restoring support for the homeless.“
We cannot risk losing an entire generation, so our amendments focus the largest amount of new investment in children and young people in Camden,” said group leader Councillor Luisa Porritt.
The sole Green councillor at the council, Sian Berry, said she was abstaining on all the budget votes, but said she supported the use of reserves. “There’s no sense in which we shouldn’t be investing as much as we can this year,” she said.
Cllr Olszewski joked that he had to check what year the Tory amendments came from because he said it was “more of the same”.
He said: “The communications department has been crucial to how we’ve dealt with the pandemic. Communications have been vital in getting the message out to various communities on the support they need.”
He added that Camden was helping to ease the housing crisis by buying back right-to-buy properties for use as temporary accommodation.