Council Tax: Freeze It Or Raise It?

Malcolm Grimston believes a small increase will give greater independence long term

During the Council meeting tonight (4th March) at the Council Tax levels for 2015/16 are to be set, Independent Wandsworth Councillor for West Hill Ward, Malcolm Grimston, is to propose the following amendment.

“While both the achievement of officers in reducing the costs of providing Council services and the prospect of further savings associated with the proposals to share services with the London Borough of Richmond are to be welcomed, budgetary pressures associated with reductions in grant are now having significant effects on frontline services. Given Wandsworth’s unusual degree of dependence on central grant as a proportion of spending this leaves the Council in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to future reductions in Government spending, as the striking projections for 2016/17 and 2017/18 in this Para demonstrate.

“While recognising that in effect Council Tax is now largely set by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, rather than by local authorities themselves, Councils do still have some flexibility, being able to raise Council Tax by up to 2%, which in Wandsworth’s case would represent a little less than 15 p per week at Band D, without recourse to a public referendum. Although this would result in a one-off loss of Freeze grant of £519,000 in 2015/16 it would produce net extra revenue of £413,000 in 2015/16 and up to an extra £932,000 each year subsequently. This would allow for example for a cast-iron guarantee to be given to retain most of the Borough’s out-of-town centre libraries.

“While low taxation is clearly of benefit, there comes a point where a modest rise in tax represents social value for money. This Council recognises that this point has now come.”

Councillor Grimston said: “Low taxation is clearly beneficial, especially to those on low incomes, but there obviously comes a point where the damage to valuable services outweighs this. This year the Council is to take £9 million from reserves – in effect run at a £9 million loss – while it faces having to find £60 million in further cuts over the next two years. The merger with Richmond is expected to deliver £10 million a year in savings but even if it exceeds this there is a real danger that something is going to crack. Some of this year’s decisions are already very hard. I have a case in my Ward for example of an elderly lady who has had to wait several months to see an Occupational Therapist so she can use her bath; grants are being cut to some excellent organisations; and the Council leaderships has pointedly refused to give a cast-iron guarantee that Southfields library’s future is secure. Much worse is to come and commonsense, let alone a fear for the future of services, surely says we should be doing what little we can this year to soften the blow.

“I recognise of course that this will be unpopular in many quarters but as neither of the political parties on the Council seems to wish to address it – I don’t even know if I will get a seconder – then I feel someone should offer an alternative view. If we want to maintain our proud record of services then as residents we may need to be prepared to pay a few extra pence a week.”

March 4, 2015