Thursday, 30 January 2014

Why we won't be raising Council Tax like the Brighton Greens

As the Green Party continues to use their tenure at Brighton Town hall as a vehicle for national policies and comment, Camden Labour is being asked by the Camden Greens to hold a referendum on Council Tax increases. 

Here's my response:

Council Tax has been frozen for all four years of Camden Labour's administration, saving the average household over a hundred pounds a year. Just when people are dealing with higher tube, energy, water and broadband bills Council Tax is the only bill which hasn't gone up for residents in recent years.

Unlike other councils - like Green-run Brighton who are arguing for a 5% increase without telling people what precisely it's for - we feel the continuing uncertainty over the 'real recovery' means that people's bills mustn't go up without proper justification. 

Using the Green question to Full Council (that the council should've raised Council Tax by RPI) and/or the Brighton rise (5%), we done some numbers - showing that bills would be between £332 and £552 pounds more for a Band D property.

Such a move would give Camden the highest Council Tax in inner London.

Because we put in place a long-term financial plan in 2010, in contrast to many other councils, Camden will not be making further cuts until the new spending plan from Whitehall kicks in - April 2015 - and only then after extensive consultation with the public.  In this context an increase to offset cuts which aren’t happening this year would surely be unjustified.

Allowing incremental increases to the Council Tax just below the threshold (1.99%) would have only marginally protected base budgets – but would have succeeded in passing costs to the taxpayer, including the poorest taxpayers now the Government has cut Council Tax Benefit by £2.4m.  The assertion I believe made by the Greens at Full Council that this would have covered the cuts is untrue.  Camden would also have lost Council Tax grants from the government totaling £5.5m.

We also feel that people shouldn't be asked to pay more - or for services to be cut - unless we continue to reduce costs at the Town Hall.  Since 2010 senior managers have been cut by 20% and senior pay, including the new chief executive, by over 10%.  The ratio of highest-to-lowest is now 10:1, well below the average of other councils at 15:1 and indeed FTSE 100 companies at 232:1.  While we face very difficult choices next year, I am confident that further costs can be cut from the Town Hall - including more middle management.   

We’ve also taken steps to make Council Tax fairer with more reforms to Council Tax than any other previous administration.

We've ended historic Council Tax perks for all 3900 second homes in the borough. Previously these homes got a 10% discount. Instead we've invested the money in a new scheme to provide wrap-around childcare at 25 hours for residents, removing a costly barrier to work or a better career.

Last year Council Tax was increased to 150% on furnished properties left empty for more than 2 years.  Amazingly, this move led to a reduction in the number of empty homes in the borough by 40%.  Because it was so successful we asked the government if we could extend the policy to close further loopholes - but were denied by Conservative minister Brandon Lewis, continuing the Whitehall grip on local decision-making.  

Camden is the first council in the country to provide an exemption to Foster Carers for Council Tax.  We are doing this because we want to send a message to council carers that they do a fantastic job.  It also helps reduce costs and helps kids stay in their community - if we can't find children a place with a local carer then we have to put them in private or residential care, which is extremely expensive at over £1200 week, and places vulnerable kids away from their friends, communities and schools.

Finally after the Conservatives cut a portion of Council Tax Benefit for the poorest 16000 households in the borough, Camden will help the hardest hit by limiting liability to 8.5% for the second year running and giving extra help to make work pay for 4500 low paid working households and their children.

Camden continues to campaign for a Mansion Tax, with proceeds ring-fenced for the borough rather than the Treasury, as well as a ‘Bed Tax’ for hotels and other measures set bout in the London Finance Commission.   

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