Council Meeting Endorses Proposed Tax Increase

Opposition amendment for a reduction in overall charge voted down

All the proposed rise will go to pay for adult social care

March 10, 2023

Wandsworth Council will freeze its core share of council tax to help residents with the cost of living, but bills will increase to help fund social care. Wandsworth residents are set to continue paying some of the lowest council tax bills in the country this April despite high inflation squeezing the council’s budget.

Wandsworth Council approved council tax rates for the 2023/24 financial year on Wednesday (8 March). The authority’s share of council tax for general use will be frozen while the adult social care precept will be hiked by the maximum amount allowed without a referendum – 2per cent, or £9.54 for band D households. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s share is set to rise by 9.7pc.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Labour council leader Simon Hogg said, “Residents here in Wandsworth will pay the lowest average council tax in the country. This freezing of the main element of council tax is a key part of our plan to deliver a fairer, more compassionate, more sustainable borough.” He said the adult social care precept hike will “support the NHS and care for our most vulnerable”.

He said the authority had created the biggest cost-of-living response in the capital – with a £5million scheme to support residents.

But Conservative councillors said Wandsworth Labour promised to cut council tax ahead of the local elections last May. They called for an overall 1pc cut in council tax – with a 3pc reduction for general use and 2pc hike in the adult social care precept. Labour took control of the council from the Conservatives for the first time in 44 years last May.

Conservative councillor Peter Graham said, “This is an administration which pledged on page 17 of its manifesto we will cut council tax – insisting we believe in fairness and that means a modest reduction in council tax.”

Conservative councillor Lynsey Hedges said, “The quality of many services is getting worse and at the same time Labour’s promise to residents pre-May election to cut council tax has been broken.” She added, “In the current cost-of-living crisis, where residents in the borough are already struggling with rising bills, mounting debt and financial hardship, this proposal takes real money out of their pockets.”

Labour councillor Graeme Henderson, cabinet member for health, said the authority had to hike the adult social care precept “at the behest of the government” while there is a “crisis in social care”.

Councillor Hogg said the Labour administration “will charge the same low council tax and deliver better services for all”.

He said the council will provide free monthly mega skips, guaranteed weekly bin collections and an expanded food waste collection pilot, along with 1,000 new council homes, the introduction of landlord licensing and £5m extra investment in streets, roads and pavements.

He added, “What we couldn’t have foreseen in May are the unforeseen challenges – the dreadful invasion of Ukraine, the subsequent energy price spikes driving huge inflation – which of course has stretched the council’s budget, as with every organisation.”

Councillor Hogg said he did not think it sensible to cut core council tax by 3pc and that it would cost the authority £6m by the next election.

He added, “As promised, we opened up the books, we cancelled wasteful spending and we made the council’s assets work hard. More than £10m of savings were found in departmental budgets while actually improving frontline services. We froze council tax and set a balanced budget using less than 1pc of the council’s reserves.”

The Conservatives put forward an amendment to cut council tax by 1pc overall, which was thrown out – with 21 for and 31 against.

The approval of council tax rates for 2023/24 means average band D households in Wandsworth not subject to the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators (WPCC) levy will pay £914.14. Average council tax paid by band D households affected by the levy will be £950.10.

The government lifted the referendum cap in November last year, meaning councils can raise taxes by 4.99pc annually without the need for it to be voted in by residents – including 2.99pc for general use and an extra 2pc for adult social care.

Wandsworth cut its share of council tax for 2022/23 by 1pc overall, reducing the core element by 2pc and increasing the adult social care levy by 1pc, under the old Conservative administration. The authority froze its core share of tax and increased the adult social care precept by 3pc the year before.

Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter