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Déjà vu as Town Hall orders a new rise in your council tax bill

Bills to go up by nearly 4%

06 March, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Labour’s finance chief Councillor Richard Olszewski blames the government

THERE was a sense of déjà vu in the Town Hall chamber on Monday night when Labour council chiefs ordered another increase of council tax. Like last year, bills will go up by 3.99 per cent, the maximum raise open to local authorities.

Labour’s finance chief, Councillor Richard Olszewski, said council tax increases and savings had to continue due to uncertainty over how much funding Camden would get from the government.

In a debate which might have served as an action replay of last year’s budget-setting session, the Conservatives argued that council tax could have been cut by 1 per cent. The new hike was voted through, however, by the ruling Labour group which was voted back into power with an overwhelming majority at council elections two years ago.

Cllr Olszewski said that a lack of clarity over grants and how business rates would be reformed in the future “left us with the need to continue with our savings and to have an increase in council tax of 3.99 per cent”.

But he said Camden would still pay for a list of funding commitments including employment support services and £300,000 on hiring new youth workers to help soothe problems with violent crime.

He said that the recent Marmot Review by the Institute of Health Equity had highlighted how austerity measures followed by central government had widened the divide in life expectancy between rich and poor. It’s quite scandalous how, for the first time in 120 years, we’re witnessing sustained stalling in improvements in health. [Sir Michael] Marmot concludes that the result of austerity is, to quote, ‘ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope’.”

“Well, Camden Labour doesn’t ignore its communities. We are tackling poor conditions as much as we can with one hand tied behind our back.”

Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper

The Tories – the largest opposition group in Camden, albeit with only seven councillors – costed an alternative budget which would have seen a council tax cut. Special police constables should enjoy a 50 per cent cut to their council tax bill, they said, while more CCTV was promised. More electric car-charging points would be installed under their plans, while they also included the offer of free micro-chipping for pets. They pledged to balance the books by cutting wasteful spending, citing the council-produced Camden Magazine and Love Camden, a separate entertainment listings website set up by the council despite the wealth of media outlets already providing this service.

Tory group leader Councillor Oliver Cooper said: “Imagine what we could do with more money, Cllr Olszewski says. In his own report he actually says grants from government have increased by £32million in the last year – 6 per cent, three and a half times the cost of living. That’s allowed this council to do lots of good things. Lots of savings can also be made within the current resources being squandered by this council.”

Cllr Cooper raised the spiralling cost of refurbishing the old Town Hall in Judd Street which has already run over its initial budget.

Lib Dem councillor Luisa Porritt addresses councillors

Liberal Democrat councillor Luisa Porritt said Camden needed to act on its spending plans, and the consultation insights it paid for.

“It is no good to simply declare a climate emergency,” she said. “Actions must back that up. Our proposal for the council to fully divest its pension fund portfolio from fossil fuels was rejected, despite that being a specific ask from the citizens assembly that it spent £60,000 pounds consulting with. “There is a similar story to tell about youth safety, Camden’s Youth Safety Taskforce took a year to report on its recommendations.”

Among her party’s spending ideas was a “scoping report” for an all-year-round night shelter for the homeless.

Green councillor Sian Berry

Sian Berry, the only Green councillor in Camden, suggested Camden looked at more borrowing options to pay for ideas which would save money in the long term. “You can borrow prudentially to do so much more for the climate in Camden,” she said. “There is absolutely no reason why you cannot borrow to invest in things that will save you money. Other councils are doing much much better.”

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