£32m government cuts force council tax rise for Islington residents
Council leader blames ‘unprecedented’ cash loss but says people won’t notice much difference
05 January, 2018 — By Emily Finch
Richard Watts: ‘£194m savings since 2010’
ISLINGTON Council is set to raise council tax to cover a £32million hole in its budget.
Town Hall leader Councillor Richard Watts said in an interview with the Tribune: “I have to be honest and say council tax is going to increase. The council has been told by the government it can be a maximum rise of 2.99 per cent, but we will announce what it will go up by at the end of the month.”
Cllr Watts and cabinet finance chief Councillor Andy Hull have not ruled out an increase by the full amount, which would see someone in a band D property currently paying £1,351 a year fork out an extra £40.
“The government is forcing us to find £32million of savings this year,” he said. “That’s taking it towards £194million worth of savings cumulatively since 2010, which is the largest cut we’ve ever faced. It’s unprecedented to have this much money cut.”
Terry Stacy: ‘It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors’
He added: “The average local resident will not notice much difference as a result of this budget. We are not proposing cuts to bin collections or street cleaning.”
But he added: “Part of the strain is that there is less money found down the back of sofas just to throw at solving problems. If someone has dumped something on the street, it will take a bit longer than usual for us to pick it up.”
The largest savings of £8million will be through changes in the use of money raised by the Community Infrastructure Levy, a planning charge developers pay the council when new builds are approved and which funds new services, including schools.
Funds raised would previously have been spent on projects near the new development, decided by ward councillors, but the Town Hall will now pool the money and choose which area and projects the money goes to.
“I guess that means less changing of the pavements on a local level. It means we can carry on making core investments, which used to come from the core council budget,” said Cllr Watts.
The budget proposes saving millions of pounds from changes to adult and children’s social care services, but Cllr Watts and Cllr Hull said services would not be cut but instead worked “differently”.
Caroline Russell: Protect the poorest from tax rise
According to the proposal, £1.3million will be saved through “efficiencies in service provision for learning disability clients” and £1.6million through “develop[ing] a new delivery model for in-house services, including reablement” in adult social care.
A saving of £30,000 will be made by not purchasing new books for libraries.
Former Liberal Democrat council leader Terry Stacy – who led the Town Hall between 2008 and 2010 – warned of the “smoke and mirrors” effect within the budget.
“I urge Labour to do everything they can to avoid putting up the council tax because it can hit people hard,” he added. “Are Labour being upfront on the savings they have to make? Is it because the election is coming up that they’re not spelling it out to people?
“It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, bearing in mind they have to save a lot of money.”
The Town Hall’s sole opposition councillor, the Green Party’s Caroline Russell, was concerned about the new delivery model for adult social care.
“Helping people get better and get back to work so they no longer need a care package may make sense in theory but the reality may mean people losing support they depend on,” she said. “Making this work in a way that is fair will need an open dialogue with care recipients so there is no danger of people unfit for work losing their social care packages.”
She added: “It makes sense to put the council tax up by the full allocation allowed by the government so we can deliver essential services. However, I think we should do what Camden does and exempt the very poorest residents from paying.”
The Town Hall also announced that £57million would be going into building 200 new council homes and £14million into expanding Tufnell Park Primary School.
Council tax will be scrapped for foster carers, a move financed by a doubling in council tax on empty properties.