A Pledge to Freeze Council Tax for 4 Years

by Nigel Bakhai on 16 April, 2014

Please find below a copy of my speech at the April meeting of Ealing Council on the Conservative and Liberal Democrat pledges to freeze council tax for the next four years:-

At the last full council, the Ealing Lib Dem council group voted to freeze council tax over the next four years and we have included this as one of our priorities in our election manifesto.

Unlike the Conservatives we provided a fully costed alternative budget as we have done for each of the last four years to show how we spend more money on our priorities while freezing council tax.

How can the residents of Ealing trust the Tories to protect council services in the unlikely event they are running the council after May when they produced a one line alternative budget pledging to freeze council tax but have failed to show what savings they would make or the services they would cut in order to pay for all the commitments they have made over the last four years.

The Labour group, on the other hand, has only committed themselves to a first year freeze but no guarantees thereafter. We can only assume that they will increase council tax in future years. Moreover their record over the last four years shows that they have closed day centres for the most vulnerable while wasting money on an expensive unused car park in Southall just to fulfill one of their election pledges.

The Lib Dem council group did not take the decision to pledge to freeze council tax for the next four years lightly. The council’s medium term financial strategy shows a significant savings requirement over the next two years,which will mean that the new administration after May’s elections will face some difficult decisions.

However, while we want protect services especially for the most vulnerable, it is also important that the council cuts its cloth according to its means rather than hiking up council taxes and passing on the burden onto long suffering taxpayers – many of whom are on low incomes or pensioners earning little interest from their savings at the moment.

We should not forget that the Coalition Government has helped to fund the council tax freeze over the last four years and will continue to provide a grant to continue this support if the council is willing to make this further commitment.

Moreover, the council has currently over £100 million in reserves even though admittedly, some of that belongs to the schools, or is already earmarked for projects. Council officers should be praised for their prudence in building up the council’s reserves over recent years even if we have the dichotomy of Tories attacking Labour for leaving central Government with huge national debts but also at the same time locally for building up the council’s coffers.

Employee costs represent around 50% of the council’s budget and the council still employs around 3,000 staff with 212 officers earning between £50k and £100k and 10 officers earning over £100k. The Lib dem budget amendment showed that a 5% saving in the top salaries of the highest earners could save the council just under £1 million – the same as a 1% rise in council tax.

Council tax payers would be astonished if they knew much the council pays for even the simplest items like the cost for a new street bin or a park bench. Going forward the council will have to be far more careful about how it spends taxpayers money to ensure it provides value for money. By pooling resources with other local authorities like the West London Alliance they can generate bigger economies of scale and greater efficiency savings in procurement of goods and services.

The council needs to cut out waste, and cut its costs not services. Only the Lib Dems have shown over the last four years that they can be trusted to freeze council tax, provide a balanced budget and protect services for the most vulnerable.

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