Council Tax increase passed as Mayor claims Town Hall is ‘thin red line’ against austerity

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville addresses 27 February meeting of Hackney Council. Photograph: Ed Sheridan.

Council Tax rises have been officially put into action by Hackney Council, amidst debate over the merits of the policy between Labour and Conservatives in the Town Hall.

The rates are to rise by 4.99 per cent, which will raise £3.8m for Town Hall services, at a cost of 92p a week to the average taxpayer, as part of the council’s drive to address a £30m funding gap by 2022.

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville (Lab & Co-op) also announced a range of other protected investments for services within the council budget, whilst underlining that the Town Hall is focused on balancing the books by making “back office efficiencies” to the tune of £40m.

Glanville said: “Hackney Council has seen the largest cuts out of any local authority, because the Tory austerity agenda is deliberately targeted at hitting the poorest the hardest.

“We’ve been very much the thin red line protecting our residents, our staff and our services from austerity.

“We have £30m of savings that we must make by 2022, and we need to make tough decisions in the coming years, including a hard decision none of us here take lightly, and that is to increase council tax by 4.99 per cent, which will be a £3.8m payment against the challenges that we face.

“This is a budget that doesn’t duck the big financial issues but continues our record of transformation and change, investing in the borough’s future.”

Cllr Feryal Demirci (Lab, Hoxton East & Shoreditch), deputy mayor and cabinet member for health, social care, transport & parks, added: “Government funding is not appearing, and the opposition talk about funding social care by abolishing ward forums.

“There’s a £2.2bn gap in social care funding, so how many ward forums are we talking about abolishing?”

The Labour-contolled council has also promised 800 homes for social rent by 2022.

Other policies announced in this year’s budget include:

  • £6.7m to be invested into council services for young people
  • £20m for the improvement of the borough’s school buildings
  • Protected investment of £4.9m into roads, streets and pavements

The Mayor assured listeners that Hackney will keep the ninth lowest Council Tax in London, with an average bill £300 lower than rest of England, and said that if the council had not made the decision to balance the books, Whitehall would step in to enforce “deeper, Tory-led cuts”.

Hackney’s Conservative group of councillors voted against the budget proposals, with Cllr Simche Steinberger (Con, Springfield) claiming that a rise in Council Tax to fund “crazy” initiatives was unfair on residents.

Cllr Steinberger (Con, Springfield) said: “There is no responsibility for this mayor. He seems to think the money is just there for him to enjoy himself.

“The amount of money being wasted here, I could save you millions in no time at all.

“If you take out the GLA precept, our policy would see Council Tax actually going down on last year. It’s so easy to find the gaps. They’re not reliable, basically, they shouldn’t be allowed to do a budget.

“It’s not fair that every resident should have to spend more money on their crazy things. Their idea is just to spend, spend, spend.”

Cllr Steinberger also called for a reduction in the level of high-paid officers in the council, suggesting that the money saved could be diverted towards police funding.

Cllr Michael Levy (Con, Springfield), leader of the opposition, added: “Any right-thinking government that wishes to remain afloat must balance its books as best it can.

“Taxation as a percentage of GDP is already at the highest level that it’s been since the 1970s.”

The Conservative councillors proposed a variety of changes to the Town Hall’s financial plans, which were voted down by the majority Labour group.

Proposals included:

  • A reduction in Hackney Council Tax of £62.02 for those living in Band D properties
  • A reduction of investment in planned highways maintenance by £2m for a period of one year
  • Ending ward forums with immediate effect and using the money saved to put towards social care

Conservative councillors also called for an end to the publication of council newspaper Hackney Today, as well as “an investigation of the legal costs incurred to allow the fortnightly publication to continue despite the government’s directions”.

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