James Cracknell reports from Thursday night’s annual Waltham Forest Council budget meeting
Council tax for Waltham Forest residents will rise by 1.86 percent in April after councillors agreed the increase was needed to safeguard adult social care.
Both Labour and Conservative members accepted that without adding £26.97 to the annual council tax bill for an average-sized property in the borough services for vulnerable people would have to be cut.
It comes after a government decision to reduce core finding for local authorities by 20 percent over the next four years. Over that time, councils will gradually be able to retain more of the business rates they receive.
Since 2010, a financial incentive had also been offered to local authorities to freeze council tax. This has now been abolished, leading to an immediate £1.8million shortfall to be made up by Waltham Forest Council.
Councillor Chris Robbins, the council leader, told Thursday night’s annual budget meeting at Waltham Forest Town Hall: “We have to [raise council tax] because of the chaos in funding of adult social care.
“It is an absolute disgrace that the government has done a 360-degree turn on this. We should never have got to a situation where adult social care is in such a state that we are being forced into a two percent council tax increase.
“They [the government] want someone else to be blamed for the mess they have made.”
Council tax in London is set by both borough councils and by the Greater London Authority (GLA), run by the London mayor. For the 2016/17 financial year GLA’s share of council tax is reducing by £19 for the average home, after a levy to fund the Olympic Games in 2012 finally ended. But with Waltham Forest Council raising its share of tax by 3.99 percent, it means the overall bill is going up by 1.86 percent.
Conservative councillors, while agreeing a council tax rise was necessary to avert a shortfall in social care funding, disagreed that the current Conservative government should be blamed.
Councillor Matt Davis, leader of the opposition Conservative group, said: “We should thank the government for forcing the council to increase council tax, to cover the growing cost of social care.
“This [cost] is to do with external pressures and it would be irresponsible to not increase council tax. It is something we can all support.”
Labour members at Thursday’s meeting were full of praise for the council’s handling of its finances, with no additional cuts to services needing to be made on top of the major £45m reduction programme agreed in 2013. In total over the last five years, cuts of £98m have been approved by the council.
But they highlighted that there would be extra money available for the continuation of the borough’s school breakfast club programme, a £450,000 investment in parks and green spaces, and a £250,000 primary school reading programme.
Among those praising the council’s finance team was Councillor Stuart Emmerson, who compared their teamwork to that of table-topping Leicester City Football Club.
A further £400,000 of spending plans drawn up by the Conservative group, however, was rejected by the Labour-dominated town hall. Cllr Davis said the extra money could be found by reducing the amount spent by the authority on agency fees to consultants.
Among the Conservative proposals was an extension of recycling collections to all council estates in Waltham Forest; an introduction of “European-style parking discs” and 20 minutes’ free parking to help small businesses; a new bus service for Chingford; and extra money for scrutiny of democratic procedures.
Supporting the spending plans that were later rejected, Councillor Alan Siggers said: “What is there not for Labour to like? It is full of things – recycling, toilets, transport – that you guys are always wittering on about.”
After voting down the amendment councillors voted to approve the council’s 2016/17 budget – and the 1.86 percent tax rise that came with it.
How much will your council tax rise in 2016/17? See the table below: