Council tax in Camden confirmed to rise by almost four per cent
- Credit: Archant
Politicians clashed this week over the need for a council tax rise in Camden as an increase of almost four per cent was voted through, including a two per cent precept to fund the soaring costs of adult social care.
The increase equates to roughly 80 pence per week for a band D property - about £42 per year.
The Labour run council’s finance chief, Theo Blackwell, said the increase is vital in the face of swingeing cuts to town hall funding from central government, but the Conservative opposition claimed they had found a way to protect services whilst saving tax payers £25 per year with their alternative budget.
At a full council meeting, the Tories presented their budget amendment, which was comprehensively voted down, with Labour ridiculing their suggestions as predictable and unrealistic.
Cllr Blackwell said: “Each year, we await the Conservative amendments with bated breath and each year, they produce a piece of paper with the same thing on it!”
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The Tories’ alternative budget included making savings by axeing three trade union branch officials, cutting the council’s PR and communications budget and closing the Camden magazine. In addition, they would privatise some transport services and integrate selected services for young people.
They also proposed generating funds through renting out the top two floors of the council’s new offices in St Pancras Square and spaces in Camden’s under-used property assets, and selling more advertising space in its buildings.
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The Conservatives claim they would use the money generated to acquire four extra police officers for the borough, reverse proposed closures of public toilets and the withdrawal of planning letters. In addition, they said they could restore funding for mental health services at the Highgate Day Centre and for some of the youth services currently facing the axe.
But Cllr Flick Rea, the sole Liberal Democrat on the council, said Tory spending proposals were a “shopping list”. She said she broadly welcomed the Labour budget, but couldn’t support it because it proposes “closing public conveniences, which are the mark of a civilised society”. Cllr Rea said that the other short-sighted cut was the withdrawal of postal planning notifications, and abstained in the vote along with the sole Green representative, Cllr Sian Berry.
Labour accused the Conservatives of “sleight of hand” with their proposals, saying the reductions to services had been made necessary because of cuts from the Tory government.
Cllr Jonathan Simpson claimed the Tories were trying to cosy up to “their friends in the north of the borough” – a reference to the high-profile campaign for additional police officers in Hampstead – and accused them of “committing another crime” with “an act of fraud” because the Conservative government has cut the police budget since 2010.
The Conservatives also proposed bringing in free parking for 20 minutes to help businesses in the borough, but infrastructure chief Phil Jones said this would simply take money out of the public transport budget.
Cllr Jones said: “We have got realistic, deliverable plans, whereas this (amendment) is not really worth the paper it is written on”.
Cllr Don Williams, Tory spokesman on finance, said he supports the social care precept, but believes the 1.99 per cent baseline increase will “punish Camdeners”.
He said: “This increase will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest”.
Both Barnet and Haringey have also taken advantage of the social care precept, but Barnet said its council tax bills will not increase in real terms because the mayoral precept is being reduced.