Council tax up 4pc as Tower Hamlets passes Labour’s first budget since 2010
- Credit: Archant
Council tax is going up by four per cent in London’s deprived East End after the Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets got his budget through last night’s full council meeting with a comfortable majority.
Councillors passed John Biggs’s executive budget for 2016-17 by 25 votes to 17 which means public spending cuts of £30 million in Britain’s third-poorest borough.
They rejected alternative proposals by opposition groups set to stem cuts in key areas including adult social welfare and policing.
A budget put forward by independent members of disgraced ex-Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s former Tower Hamlets First group was thrown out by 30 votes to 12, the Tories voting with Labour.
The Conservative group’s proposals for just two per cent tax rise were rejected by 37 votes to five with the independents this time siding with Labour in a tit-for-tat move.
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Mayor Biggs got his executive budget through, despite a lobby by trade union activists, some waving placards in the public gallery.
But the council tax rise was a foregone conclusion, with his Labour majority on the council, having already been passed by his cabinet last month.
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“Budget savings this year are about £15 million—but next year it will double to £30m,” the mayor had warned at a media briefing. “Next year will be a lot tougher because we need to make big savings.”
Half the increase includes finding the cash for some of the adult social care services, resulting from cuts in Whitehall funding.
Last night’s budget also includes funds to tackle anti-social behaviour on the streets of the East End, improving street cleansing and putting more cash in adult social care.
“The Chancellor George Osborn hasn’t quite instructed, but is expecting us to increase tax by 2pc to pay for adult social care,” the mayor told last night’s meeting.
“Most councils in London are doing that, including most Tory councils. We’re proposing an additional 1.9pc to take us up to roughly 4pc to bring resilience into the budget because next year will be a tough year.
“The cuts from the government are hitting the hardest at the weakest in our community. That is an outrage and I feel passionately that it must be challenged.
“I’m committed to challenging the quite wicked policies of the government which doesn’t really care about this area and the needs of people in poverty and those who are disadvantaged.”
Biggs then turned his fire on disgraced Lutfur Rahman’s five years on office.
“The previous administration kicked the can down the road,” he said. “It avoided making hard decisions by working on little things, creating problems on waste collection, anti-social behaviour and children’s centres.”
The Independent opposition group, Lutfur’s former allies on the council, hit back accusing the Labour mayor of dishing out an austere “Tory” budget, despite the reserves he inherited last June, “yet choosing to inflict unfair cuts to vital services.”
Its group leader Ollui Rahman, who took the helm for four weeks after Rahman was barred from office by the High Court last April, said: “It saddens me that this ‘Tory’ budget by a so-called Labour mayor means £10m of devastating cuts, a shambles by an incompetent administration out of touch with the people.
“Unlike the New Labour government treasury team before they left office (in 2010), we didn’t leave a note saying there was ‘no money’ in the kitty—we left John Biggs £71m.”
But the Mayor warned against dipping into reserves which would “make things worse” if funds were depleted before more swingeing Whitehall cuts forecast next year.
Conservatives, meanwhile, accused Labour of “dragging heels over scrapping the council’s £1.5m “Pravda propaganda” weekly East End Life, which government commissioners in the Town Hall last year had ordered to be closed down.
Also, slashing £270,000 from the local police budget, they said, was “unwarranted” and compromised public safety.
They wanted council tax rise pegged at 2pc by dropping ‘Mother Tongue’ language courses and even dousing the public’s free annual Guy Fawkes Bonfire celebrations.
Conservative Chris Chapman insisted: “Labour’s budget is a slap in the face to hard-working families who have entrusted the mayor with introducing financial probity to an authority whose reputation was dragged into the gutter by his now-infamous predecessor.
“The mayor’s 4pc tax rise is ridden with wasteful, ideologically-driven unjustifiable spending.”
He proposed working with other local authorities for efficiency and savings, adding: “The shared isolationist position pursued by the previous administration where no authority wished to associate itself with corruption must now be consigned to history.”
The council’s overall budget is £1.2 billion for 2016-17, most from national taxes handed out by Whitehall for welfare, education and other social services, while £362m has to be raised from 83,500 households and business premises. Half the 4pc increase is being used to fill in gaps in government cuts.
Last night’s vote means a typical Band D property, for example, now pays £920 a year council tax, plus £276 which goes to City Hall, making a total of £1,196.