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Council Tax Freeze 2013/14

by Nigel Bakhai on 11 December, 2012

Please find below a copy of my speech at the December 2012 council meeting to second an Ealing Lib Dem motion calling for a council tax freeze in 2013/14.

Thank you Mr Mayor, I rise to second the Lib Dem motion. One of the roles I have outside this chamber is to be a director of the management company for the block of flats where I live. This role encompasses managing the budget and expenditure for the general upkeep of the flats, and setting the service charge which the lessees like I have to pay every year. In many ways what we are trying to do as a management company is similar to what the council does in balancing the books and keeping charges down, albeit on a far smaller scale.

In the same way, I am glad this year the Government will set aside an extra £450 million to help freeze council tax bills in England for 2013/14. If the council agrees not to increase council tax next year, funding will be provided to the value of a 1% council tax increase or £1.3 million for 2013/14 and 2014/5. Over the last two years the Government has provided grants of around £2billion to help freeze council tax. A freeze in council tax in 2013-14 would represent a real terms cut of around two per cent and a fall of nine per cent in real terms over the past three years. By incentivizing local authorities like Ealing to freeze council tax, the Lib Dems in Coalition have saved the average Band D tax payer in Ealing around £175 compared with the average increases under the last Labour Government between 2000 and 2010. Freezing bills again will really help hard working families and those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners with their cost of living.

We accept the offer to freeze council tax is not without its issues. Sir Merrick Cockell, the Local Government Association chair, said: “Any help for councils is a good thing, but we have to be clear that this is a short-term offer. It doesn’t address the huge long-term pressures councils are facing including bigger cuts than any other part of the public sector and an immediate and growing crisis in funding care for the elderly. Councils could now have to budget for a further future shortfall. Councils care for the elderly, look after vulnerable children and collect the bins from our streets and in order to carry on doing this effectively local authorities need local discretion to consider the long-term interests of their residents before deciding if they will take up this government offer.”

Certainly, it is key that the council protects front line services, especially those used by the elderly or disabled in this borough. However, it is also important that we give those same residents value for money in their council tax so that they aren’t paying above and beyond their means at a time when their income from savings remains static. We in the Lib Dem group think that council officers led by the Council’s Executive Director for Corporate Resources, Ian O’ Donnell, have managed the council budget well so that the council is well on its way to meet its savings target of £85million, while investing in key priorities like the capital programme for our schools and still being in a strong position to be able to freeze council tax for a third year of this administration. While we obviously understand that the council’s financial settlement has not yet been finalized and that a decision on next year’s council tax will not be taken this evening, we hope that the Labour group will support the principle behind our motion and accept the need to freeze council tax in the borough next year.

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