£100m scheme to protect residents and businesses
WESTMINSTER residents hit by the recession have received an early Christmas present from the council. Loans for homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages and a freeze on council tax for 2009/10 are just some of the windfalls from an unprecedented £100m
WESTMINSTER residents hit by the recession have received an early Christmas present from the council.
Loans for homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages and a freeze on council tax for 2009/10 are just some of the windfalls from an unprecedented £100million recovery programme.
Council leader Colin Barrow announced the plan at a full council meeting held last week. He said the spending would focus on four main areas which includes help with housing, reducing the cost of living and offering support to residents and small businesses.
Cllr Barrow predicted difficult times ahead for the borough with a rise in unemployment and possible failure for small businesses.
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But he promised the council would take a "fundamentally different approach" to previous economic downturns by not cutting jobs and services.
Funding for the scheme will come from a variety of sources ranging from Westminster's £150million capital programme to lobbying for more cash from central government.
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Cllr Barrow said: "These measures are designed to help families, encourage enterprise, improve skills and demonstrate to our residents that their city will respond, lead and act in the face of unprecedented economic crisis.
"However, they are the start of a process of recovery, not the final word or even the best solutions.
"We are in new territory and this is a new approach from Westminster.
"I've been looking at how our predecessors chose to approach hard times when in the 1970s and early 1980s recessions services were reduced, jobs were cut and charges increased.
"We have chosen a different path, not just business as usual, but better business and improved services at lower costs to meet the challenges that lie ahead."
Small business owners were particularly pleased to hear about the stop on council tax rises with many finding it increasingly difficult to meet their overheads.
Mark Lock, who owns Marchand Antiques in Church Street, said: "The freeze on council tax is the really important one to us because if businesses go under then it doesn't matter how much regeneration they do - if there are empty shops it creates an atmosphere of things being bad.
"The more they can do to help small businesses the better because they are the backbone of the community."
Monica Perez, who lives in Marylebone with her young family, praised the council's proposal to offer loans to homeowners, but has worries about the effects of keeping council tax down.
"The programme sounds like a wonderful idea. It's incredibly supportive of residents in the borough and they seem to be interested in our well being," she said.
"It would be nice to know that the homeowner loans would be offered at low rates so that there's an alternative to the banks if we are affected by the tightening.
"The council tax freeze seems wonderful but where will the money come from and will the freezing mean that public services will suffer?" Other key measures in the recovery package include apprenticeship schemes, revamped shopping areas and establishing a pool of rental properties in the private sector priced at cheaper housing benefit levels for those who are homeless.