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Barnet can make ‘future council tax cuts’ due to One Barnet outsourcing, says Westminster finance chief

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 March 2014

Cllr Melvyn Caplan, cabinet member for finance, resources and customer services.

Cllr Melvyn Caplan, cabinet member for finance, resources and customer services.

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Barnet has become one of only two London councils to cut council tax next year – insisting the move is a vindication of its controversial One Barnet outsourcing programme.

Barnet Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius. Picture: Nigel Sutton. Barnet Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Residents living in Barnet will benefit from an extra £14 in their back pockets over the next year after the council signed off a budget for 2014/15 which included cutting council tax by one per cent on Tuesday last week.

It is the only London council, apart from fellow Tory-run authority Hammersmith and Fulham, to cut council tax for the next financial year.

This represents a £14 reduction for Band D council tax payers in Barnet, with the ­annual levy falling from £1,416 to £1,402.

Speaking about the plans last year, Barnet Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius conceded that the cut amounted to a fractional reduction for residents.

Band D council tax 2014/15 (compared to London average)

Westminster: £676.74 (-47.8%)

Camden: £1,324.48 (+2.1%)

Barnet: £1,402.04 (+8.1%)

Haringey: £1,483.32 (+14.4%)

But he insisted that it showed the council was moving in the right direction under its controversial One Barnet outsourcing regime.

He said: “We’ve made enough savings via the One Barnet programme so that we can meet our budget and distribute the money saved, back to the community.

“I think it shows a direction of travel and shows that we are tax cutters and not tax increasers.”

Elsewhere, Labour-run Camden Council is freezing council tax at its current level – £1,324 per year for Band D residents – in 2014/15.

"I think there are lots and lots of questions about what Melvyn Caplan calls an innovative outsourcing programme, effectively it’s large-scale privatisation."

Camden cabinet member for finance Theo Blackwell

Labour-led Haringey last month became the first council in Britain to pledge a four-year freeze on council tax until at least March 2018 and Tory-led Westminster Council has also frozen council tax for the year ahead.

Westminster will continue to charge Band D residents £676 annually – a staggering 48 per cent lower than the London a­verage and the country’s lowest council tax rate.

Westminster Council’s ­finance chief Cllr Melvyn ­Caplan insisted an “innovative” outsourcing programme had enabled the Tory authority to keep council tax low.

He said Barnet Council could expect to make further council tax cuts courtesy of One Barnet.

“There’s a lot of outsourcing in our council,” he said. “We are actually getting increased savings from doing so. It’s a tried and tested method.”

However his counterpart in Camden, Cllr Theo Blackwell, disagreed.

Cllr Blackwell, Camden’s cabinet member for finance, said: “Camden has a different model, it’s a more social democratic model.

“Westminster hasn’t invested in social housing like we have. They’ve got a lot less mix than we do.

“I think there are lots and lots of questions about what Melvyn Caplan calls an innovative outsourcing programme: effectively it’s large-scale privatisation.

“I don’t think those contracts over time bring value for money, you just get locked into long-term arrangements. It becomes a bit of a corporate state.”

A recent survey from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) revealed the average level of Band D council tax across London stands at £1,296 for 2014/15.

This figure provides a useful tool for comparison with tax levels in Camden, Barnet, Haringey and Westminster.

Despite Barnet Council’s one per cent cut next year, the ­authority’s Band D rate will still be eight per cent higher than the London average.

In Haringey, Band D council tax will be 14 per cent higher than the London average, while Camden’s frozen rate is two per cent higher.

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