1.85%: Croydon in a Pickles over Council Tax hike

Mike Fisher, the leader of the Conservative group that tries to run Croydon Council, tonight raised the white flag at the Town Hall when – at the latest possible moment on a Friday evening just before half-term week – he had the Ministry of Truth sneak out the announcement that he plans to increase Council Tax this year by 1.85 per cent.

Council tax form 4This announcement is a three-fold admission of defeat by Fisher and his Tory-run council.

The proposed increase – which will cost residents in a typical Band D household an extra £21 per year – shows that even for axeman Fisher, so wedded to reducing council services, after three years of ruthless and destructive cuts to spending on the borough’s activities, there is nothing left to cut.

This latest broken promise from the 2010 local election manifesto had been the holy of holies for the Tories, so to abandon it now, within 18 months of the next local elections, is the frankest admission yet that even Fisher, Tim Pollard, Dudley Mead and their tired team of senior councillors do not think they can retain control of Croydon in 2014.

And it is an admission by Croydon Tories of the failure of the centrally imposed, zero-increase Council Tax policy from Conservative party grandee Eric Pickles, the local government minister.

Croydon is not the first Conservative-run council to crack under the pressure from Whitehall – the Local Government Chronicle reckons 33 other Tory-run councils in England have succumbed to increases this year.

Local government minister Eric Pickles: underwhelmed by Croydon's Council Tax increase

Local government minister Eric Pickles: likely to be underwhelmed by Croydon’s Council Tax increase

But given that Pickles went against his party’s apparent liking for “localism” and instead introduced a 2 per cent increase limit as a deliberate ruse to create political capital should “recalcitrant” Labour councils increase their Council Tax, when Conservative-run councils do so, it leaves Big Eric with little scope for boasting of financial rectitude. Only 23 Labour councils have announced increases; Labour Lambeth has frozen its council tax for the five-year period 2009-2014; neighbouring Sutton, under LibDem control, is not increasing Council Tax in 2013.

So it’s probably fair to say that any chance of a gong in the 2014 Birthday Honours for Fisher is now long gone.

By pitching its Council Tax increase at less than 2 per cent, Croydon avoids being compelled to stage a local referendum on the subject – something which would cost the borough an estimated £200,000 to do the local democracy equivalent of asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

The 1.85 per cent increase should – if Croydon’s poor collection rate could ever be improved; £42 million uncollected at the last count – raise an additional £2.71 million per year. Or barely twice what it is paying to furnish and decorate the £140 million new Council HQ building.

It will be the first Council Tax increase in this borough since the 1.07 per cent rise in 2010, also imposed by the Conservative council. By making the 2013 increase, Croydon will miss out on a 1 per cent government funding incentive to freeze the tax.

The final figures will be decided at a council budget meeting on Tuesday week, and will depend on the amount demanded by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, at a City Hall meeting 24 hours earlier, on February 25. BoJo wants to cut his share of the boroughs’ Council Tax, but Labour, LibDem and Green London Assembly Members want it left unchanged to avoid further cuts to the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade.

Croydon’s Ministry of Truth had, by 10pm on Friday night, failed to post any details of the Council Tax hike, nor any explanation from Fisher for the U-turn in his stated policy.

The twin crises in the borough of lack of school places and rising rates of homelessness – issues which this council has failed to address since first coming to power in 2006 – have put Fisher’s Tories in a tight corner. Trying to axe another £36 million from its budget over the next two years, due to continued cuts in central government grants, Fisher’s administration has been left with no other option, although spending £26 million on refurbishing the Fairfield Halls over four years appears to be sacrosanct among Croydon Tories.

Fisher was quoted as saying: “I think to protect investment in schools, in school improvement, in a whole range of council services, that is an increase which most local tax-payers would be prepared to fund.

“We have obviously looked very closely at every area of the budget. It is a balancing act between making sure council tax is affordable for the public, taking into account various offers on the table from the government, and also protecting our frontline services.”

Red faced: Mike Fisher likely to be embarrassed by having to increase Council Tax

Red faced: Mike Fisher likely to be embarrassed by having to increase Council Tax

The increase will now be rushed through the council’s tax-setting process with the cabinet meeting and council meeting taking place on the same evening, one after another. Such an approach is unprecedented and likely has been driven by an attempt to limit the political damage.

Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour opposition on Croydon Council, accused the Conservatives of “broken promises”.

Speaking to Andrew Pelling in an interview to be broadcast on the Croydon Radio programme Croydon Matters on Sunday, Newman condemned the delay around the town’s budget as “truly shocking”.

“The secrecy surrounding the Town Hall has reached a new high,” Newman said.

The “unprecedented delay in the budget” had left “a ridiculously short period of time for opposition politicians and residents to respond”.

Newman said: “The new council headquarters will haunt this administration, hopefully until after they have gone, costing £1,000 per household in Croydon.”

Newman is likely still to be targeted by Croydon Tories for his part in a 27 per cent Council  Tax hike in 2003, though a decade on, and after the Conservatives have done nothing to reverse that historic increase, this latest U-turn will have blunted that sting.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Boris Johnson, Council Tax, Croydon Council, Dudley Mead, Housing, Lambeth Council, Mayor of London, Mike Fisher, Policing, Schools, Sutton Council, Tim Pollard, URV and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 1.85%: Croydon in a Pickles over Council Tax hike

  1. We now have evidence that Labour and Conservative administrations are the same, neither are interested in reducing the level of Council Tax. However, I would say that the Conservatives are slightly worse because by increasing the Council Tax by less than 2% they have denied the residents of Croydon the opportunity to decide on the level of Council Tax that they feel is acceptable. It is interesting that the Conservative administration have not offered a non-compulsory referendum so that we can truly understand what the residents feel about the increase.

    Of course the UKIP-run Council of Ramsey has this year again opted for a zero percent increase.

    • As our report highlights, Peter, LibDem Sutton is freezing Council Tax this year, as is Labour-run Lambeth and every other Labour-controlled council in London. In Conservative-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham, they are reducing Council Tax.

      So that doesn’t say much for your “evidence”, does it?

      A referendum on whether people want a Council Tax increase? Really? And would people ever vote for an increase? Of course not. What a daft piece of posturing to score political points and waste even more public money.

      Council Tax freezes and reductions are all a certain amount of political willy waggling… Is there really a public appetite to erase all the social progress of the 20th century, and return us to a Dickensian London of soup kitchens, Work Houses and no public services?

      Let’s have well-run, properly staffed councils, with efficient rates of C-Tax collection, without needless vanity projects costing multi-millions overseen by overpaid “consultants, and instead provide top-notch, high-quality schools; weekly waste collections and high levels of recycling; strong, innovative youth services; a proper council house-building programme; good provision for our elderly and vulnerable; and excellent libraries and arts provision.

      Our local council can rebuild civic pride and create a place where people want to visit and do business, but it cannot do so while cutting every strand of the fabric of what keeps this borough together.

  2. pstaveley says:

    Of course you are entitled to your opinion and I respect that. The problem for all politicians is that the public have a very low trust for politicians, lower even than journalists. Politicians, of all parties, have caused this distrust by successively over the years ignoring the voters (except at election time), doing things that were not in anyone’s election manifesto, keeping dodgy deals secret as much as possible (such as Croydon Libraries) and ignoring the results of any public consultation when those results did not match what the ruling politicians wanted (often for their own benefit).

    Consequently, it is important to involve the public (i.e. those who work to pay the taxes) in decisions made by politicians. I agree that a referendum is a relatively expensive way to achieve that. In this instance I was merely pointing out that the proposed increase was close to (but just below) the minimum needed to trigger required referendum.

    I, as a resident of Croydon, have never been given a real say in how much I should pay in taxation (in this case Council Tax) nor in the level of services I would prefer to be provided.

    If a proper case of the benefits of more and better services were made to the residents of /Croydon then, yes, they would vote for more taxation. However, the fact that everything is kept from the residents (and to be fair from most of the opposition councillors) does nothing to reduce the cynicism that most people feel about Conservative and Labour councillors.

    I am not certain why you feel that I want us to a Dickensian London of soup kitchens, Work Houses and no public services. Like you I want us to have well-run, properly staffed councils, with efficient rates of Council Tax collection, without needless vanity projects costing multi-millions overseen by overpaid “consultants, and instead provide top-notch, high-quality schools; weekly waste collections and high levels of recycling; strong, innovative youth services; a proper council house-building programme; good provision for our elderly and vulnerable; and excellent libraries and arts provision.

    I want our local council to rebuild civic pride and create a place where people want to visit and do business. I also want to keep nearly all of the current front-line services. What I do not want is to pay for the massive waste behind the scenes and ridiculous salaries paid to directors (remember the former Chief Exec was on £248,000).

    Also I ask is the council should properly involve the voters in their decisions.

    • Well it’s good to hear that you, and therefore UKIP, agree with so many of the points made in my reply to your comment, Peter.

      It does all seem to contradict your opening statement, that “We now have evidence that Labour and Conservative administrations are the same, neither are interested in reducing the level of Council Tax”.

      That somewhat suggests that UKIP’s position is to continue to cut Council Tax, with a commensurate cut in services provided, too.

      Others think that the public service cuts have already gone far too far, with these anti-social cuts not only harming society, but also having a damaging effect on the economy.

      Interestingly enough, there’s even a survey result out today that suggests that the public does indeed have an appetite for a strong, vibrant and properly managed public sector:
      http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/02/public-want-more-spent-on-welfare/

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