James Cracknell reports from the annual Waltham Forest Council budget meeting
The steepest hike in council tax for Waltham Forest residents in more than a decade has been agreed by councillors.
A household living in an average-sized borough property will be charged an extra £63.81 for 2017/18, the highest rise since 2004, after councillors agreed to a 4.33 percent tax hike at Waltham Forest Council’s annual budget meeting.
Leader Chris Robbins says the council has been forced into making the move because of successive years of funding cuts by central government since 2010, which he also blames for the authority reducing its spending by nearly £100million over that time.
Councillor Robbins told Thursday night’s meeting at Waltham Forest Town Hall: “We have had to put up with savage cuts year on year since the Tories came to power, but we have always put residents’ priorities first, and have shown the sort of leadership many other councils have failed to do.”
The rise in council tax went unopposed by Conservative councillors, after Tory opposition leader Matt Davis admitted it was “both reasonable and necessary, in light of the crisis in funding social care”.
After several years of frozen rates, made possible by a government grant, this year represents the second successive hike in council tax for Waltham Forest residents. The rise for 2017/18 is twice as big as in 2016/17, when £27 was added to the average bill, chiefly because of the growing hole in the adult social care budget. Even with such a large tax hike, the council is still planning to reduce social care spending by £4.5million.
Other cuts to come this year include a £3.5m reduction in the council’s children and families budget, but Cllr Davis bemoaned a “lack of detail” in what was proposed.
Conservative budget amendments that were rejected by the majority Labour council included reducing spending on agency staff by £420,000 and abolishing the fortnightly propaganda pamphlet Waltham Forest News, which Cllr Davis described as “illegal”, to save another £150,000.
Cllr Davis said: “There are only so many images of the council leader residents want falling through their letter box. Waltham Forest News is no longer justifiable, and you know in your heart that is true.”
Cllr Robbins rebuffed the Troy group leader’s suggestions and said: “We don’t accept anything you say.”
Earlier in the evening, an emergency council motion pledging support to beleaguered local football club Leyton Orient was unanimously approved. It noted the recent winding up order imposed on the club and urged the owner, Francesco Becchetti, to sell up and ensure all debts are paid.
The budget meeting was also the last chance for Cllr Robbins to address the full council, as he is stepping down as leader in May after eight years in charge of the borough, to be succeeded by Clare Coghill.
Cllr Robbins highlighted some of the progress made under his leadership, including revamping leisure centres, improving GCSE results, falling crime rates, and opening a new railway station. The councillor for Grove Green ward in Leyton said: “Being leader of Waltham Forest has given me some of the proudest memories of my life and I hope in this time I have made more friends than enemies.”
After the speech, Cllr Robbins received a standing ovation from Labour members and council staff, with several Conservative councillors also rising to their feet.
How much will your council tax rise in 2017/18? See the table below: