CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Councillors vote to raise council tax by 4.99 percent

Conservatives propose 0.5 percent tax cut in alternative budget

02 March, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Cabinet members look on as Richard Olszewski presents his budget

COUNCIL tax is going up again, with Labour councillors insisting they have no choice but to collect more cash from residents against a backdrop of government cuts.

The 4.99 per cent rise in bills was ratified at Monday’s budget-setting meeting, with the majority Labour group outflanking rival parties. The Conservative opposition said Camden could afford not to raise tax, and even to cut it by half a per cent. Their amendment was described as “nonsensical” and “a playschool budget” by Labour ranks before it was voted down.

It was claim­ed their suggested council tax would amount to 11p a week for people living in band D properties. The Tories insisted they could bridge the funding gap with a series of measures, including cutting spending on trade union support for council staff and exploring revenue-raising strategies such as renting out more office space at Camden’s new all-mod-cons office block in King’s Cross.

Both of the main parties pledged to spend more on community safety with Labour ready to pull money from the council’s reserve savings, while the Conservatives called for weekly bin collections to be restored.

The increase is broken down as a 2.99 per cent rise in standard council tax, and a 2 per cent adult social care precept permitted by the government to cover the rising cost factors of an ageing population.

Labour finance chief Councillor Richard Olsze­wski said there had been “painful changes”, but added that Camden had faced £118million cuts from the government since 2010. “At the same time, we have faced an increase in cost pressures and inflation, exacerbated by Brexit recently, which have not been taken into account,” he said.

Labour councillor Thomas Gardiner 

Conservatives said that, while their ideas may not be taken on board now, recent history had shown many were eventually adopted. Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper said the first move to let out the council’s top floor had been inspired by their suggestions.

“They’ve said we can’t have cleaner streets, we can’t aspire to better mental health care, and yet our budget shows we can,” he said.

Labour councillor Thomas Gardiner said the council needed to have “honest conversations” with residents about the prospects of higher rates of council tax, and that Tories were obsessed with making small reductions.

Tory finance spokesman Councillor Don Williams

Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Marshall said the nature of budget debates had changed because of the reduction in money made available to local government. “I don’t think choice really exists, which is probably bad for local democracy,” he said. “Instead, it’s about spending the money wisely and trying to reflect residents’ concerns. Making minuscule amendments has run its course.”

Green councillor Sian Berry warned that “austerity isn’t over” despite more flexibility in the rules on raising council tax. “Camden is not responsible for Tory attacks on local government, but it has to argue as hard as it can against continuing them,” she said.

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