Council tax hike confirmed as Mayor Woodley’s first budget is voted through

Caroline Woodley presented her first budget as mayor. Photograph: Julia Gregory

The Town Hall’s budget for the next year has been approved by an overwhelming majority, with only four dissenting votes from Green and Conservative councillors.

The new financial plan has overcome a £22m funding shortfall, but the council will need to find a further £52m in savings over the next three years.

Last night’s meeting saw almost £1.5 billion pounds in spending given the green light – £94m of which will be spent on building 1,000 council homes, and a further £50m on improving existing ones.

The budget also allocates £55m to delivering the council’s ambition to be net zero by 2030. The cash will fund retrofitting, decarbonisation, and electric vehicle projects.

Close to £90m is to be spent on support services for children and young people, including adoption and fostering services.

In announcing the budget, Mayor Caroline Woodley said: “This is an ambitious, Labour-values-driven budget that protects universal services, builds resilience, creates opportunities and supports the most vulnerable in the most challenging of times, while investing in our priorities and Hackney’s future.”

It is Woodley’s first budget as mayor, after she was elected last November.

A council tax hike of 4.99 per cent, coming in April 2024, was also confirmed.

Talking about the move, Cllr Rob Chapman referenced a backdrop of rising costs, increased demand, and government austerity.

He said: “Given the significant reduction in real terms core funding since 2010, I believe such an increase is essential to protect the council’s funding position in both the short and medium term, whilst balancing the demands it places on local taxpayers.

“Moreover, the increase must be viewed not just in the context of the external funding losses, but also in terms of the ongoing demand and inflationary pressures.”

Just under half of council tax revenue will be spend on adult social care, for which demand in Hackney has soared over the past decade.

Funding for early year’s children centres is to be cut by £5.5 million, with two nurseries at risk of closure.

Green councillor Zoë Garbett slammed the cuts, asking how they are in line with the council’s manifesto commitment for “a bright future for every child and young person” in Hackney.

Mayor Woodley responded by citing the “destabilising” impact that 14 years of austerity has had on councils.

She said “it is simply not possible to exempt anything”.

Woodley added that there is “no statutory requirement for councils to provide children’s centres”, and that the Town Hall “must ensure it is getting its priorities right”.

Garbett and her fellow Green councillor Alastair Binnie-Lubbock put forward proposed budget changes that they say would have postponed cuts to children’s centres and youth services for a year, but they were voted against.

The budget also faced strong dissent from the Conservative councillors present.

Expressing concern over habitat security for Lee Valley’s resident bat population, Cllr Simche Steinberger criticised regeneration plans for the area, accusing Labour of frivolously spending whatever they get their “grubby hands” on.

He also criticised the council’s social housing scheme, pointing to a Jewish member of his ward who was moved to East Ham and is scared to leave his flat due to fears for his safety.

The Conversative budget amendments proposed fiscal savings through reducing investment into highway maintenance, and putting an end to further low traffic neighbourhoods.

The amendments were voted against by all Labour and Green councillors.

Cllr Steinberger also attempted to make alterations to his proposed amendments after they had been voted down.

After some back and forth, Speaker Anya Sizer told him his changes would be noted in the minutes but could not be debated.