Council Tax frozen but at what cost?

by Nigel Bakhai on 30 March, 2012

The February meeting of Ealing Council saw the adoption of the council’s budget strategy and the setting of Council Tax for 2012/13. There are a number of items in the new budget which the Lib Dem council group have welcomed including investment in expanding local schools to meet the increase in demand for school places, and new street lighting in crime hot spots. Furthermore, thanks to a decision by the Icelandic Supreme Court, Ealing Council now expects to recover funds invested in the failed Icelandic bank Glitner that they intend to spend on the refurbishment of Hanwell and Perivale Libraries which the Lib Dems called for last year.

There is also good news for residents in terms of a freeze in Ealing Council’s share of council tax with a 1% reduction in the precept set by the London Mayor. For a resident in Band D, that represents a £3.10 saving compared with 2011/12. The Lib Dem group on the London Assembly welcomed the decision by the Mayor to reduce council tax at a time when many families are struggling with wage freezes, as well as higher fuel costs  and transport fares. However, they felt that he did not go far enough in cutting wasteful spending on PR or the use of consultants and so proposed an alternative budget which would have resulted in a 4.2% reduction or £13.11 for a Band D taxpayer.

As they did last year, the Ealing Lib Dem council group also proposed their own budget proposals, including 10% cuts to councillors’ allowances, a 10% drop in staff salaries over £100,000, and 5% reductions to staff salaries between £75,000 and £100,000. Ealing has a number of well paid members of staff who have largely been affected by the cuts, while many more junior members of staff have lost their jobs, and we felt that councillors and senior management at the council could afford to make a small sacrifice to keep services going for the most vulnerable in our society. Moreover, the Lib Dems suggested removing the 10% council tax discount for second homes, and cancelling a few of the council’s major projects such as the £4.75 million plan to build a car park in Southall and £6.5 million spending on two new council hubs in Greenford and Southall. In return the Lib Dems would have used that money to reinstate planned social services cuts to supporting people in sheltered housing, and reversing the planned reduction in the respite care for people with learning disabilities provided at the Short Breaks centre in Green Lane, Hanwell.  The Lib Dem proposals would also have meant the end to the council’s plans to charge £40 for garden waste collection, which we believe is likely to result in reduced recycling rates, increases in flytipping or residents driving to recycling centres like Greenford to avoid paying the new fee.

The Ealing Liberal Democrat council group believes that our budget proposals twinned with the plans put forward by our Lib Dem colleagues on the London Assembly would have reduced council tax by an extra £10, helped many of the borough’s most vulnerable residents, kept garden waste recycling free and reduced the council’s long-term debt by over £11 million. However, unfortunately both the ruling Labour group and the Conservative group voted to reject the alternative Lib Dem budget.  The budget which was passed means that a band D tax payer will now pay council tax of £1366.65 made up of £1059.93 going towards Ealing Council and £306.72 to the London Mayor’s precept.

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