COUNCIL TAX: 3.4pc rise as Tower Hamlets Council votes for mayor’s tough budget
PUBLISHED: 08:49 21 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:31 22 February 2019
Council tax goes up by 3.4 per cent on April 1 at Tower Hamlets after an overwhelming vote last night in favour of Mayor John Biggs’ budget in the face of swinging government spending cuts.
His Labour ‘landslide’ administration voted for the rise by 36 votes to just two against.
The budget focuses on keeping frontline public services—although the community language service faces an uncertain future with demonstrators protesting at the town hall and handing in a petition to keep the ‘mother tongue’ classes running and to stop further cuts.
But there was never any doubt about the outcome, with Labour firmly in control and just four opposition councillors to face down. The 2.4pc rise is in line with inflation, but there is an extra one per cent for adult social care.
It follows £148m government funding cuts over the past nine years, reducing spending by 64pc, in what mayor John Biggs said were “tough decisions” and a further purse-tightening of £44m by 2022.
He pledged to “protecting frontline services”, but faced down protesters in the public gallery demanding protection for ethnic language courses.
The rise means an average 65p a week extra for each household—but could be more. The GLA is yet to set its part of the tax bill.
The opposition Conservative Group proposed a 2pc rise rather than 3.4. It called for the council’s £550m reserves to be invested in infrastructure rather than left in the bank with inflation outstripping interest earnings. The council is set to lose £22m over the next three years, by its own calculations.
But the two Conservatives were ignored as Labour steamrollered the budget through in a one-sided 90-minuit debate.
“There’s no escaping that we face tough choices after nearly a decade of austerity and losing £148m government funding,” Mayor Biggs warned.
“But this budget protects services with measures to deal with poverty. It invests in new housing, better schools, jobs, and cleaning up the environment.”
His budget includes £1.7m for a new enforcement squad to tackle street yobs on top of the additional police officers already being funded out of town hall coffers. Another £2.5m is put aside for waste services and to set up a team to remove graffiti and clean up the streets.
It also earmarks £332m for council housing and temporary accommodation, £112m for two new secondary schools and new footbridge across South Dock on the Isle of Dogs, £2.7m to keep free school meals going for all primary schoolchildren and £4.9m for ‘early years’ education and school support.
The Lib Dems also flagged up the council’s £500m reserve losing £22m through inflation on unspent money.
Cllr Rabina Khan said later: “Let’s not forget that Labour chose to close nurseries after the mayor pledged to protect the most vulnerable, and has closed youth centres. Labour will possibly close One-Stop shops, a vital service for our most vulnerable.”
The council tax rise will pay for expanding the authority’s Poverty Fund to protect the most vulnerable against Universal Credit and welfare cap, while also safeguarding public libraries, gyms, parks and leisure centres.
The budget is the first since the authority came out of a three-and-a-half year government direction which had been imposed in 2014 following the legacy of the banned and discredited former mayor Lutfur Rahman’s administration.