Tony Newman, who has spent most of his political career trying to shake-off the tag of “Mr 27 per cent” after a Council Tax increase the last time Labour had control of Croydon Town Hall, must be hoping that “Mr 3.99 per cent” is never quite as catchy.
The council leader has bitten the bullet and decided that his beleaguered local authority, denied £45 million of grant by the Tory Government, has to raise some additional funding from somewhere, and has opted to take the 2 per cent increase which Chancellor Gideon Osborne is allowing towards paying for adult social care, plus the 1.99 per cent maximum increase allowed towards other council spending.
The Council Tax increase will be the first in Croydon since 2013, when the Town Hall was under Tory control. Our borough still charges higher rates of Council Tax than comparable London local authorities. It is calculated that the latest increase will raise an additional £5.4million a year, half of which is ring-fenced for adult social care.
But it’s all a bit swings and roundabouts: part of Newman’s calculation in agreeing to the tax increase this year is that the burden on Croydon householders is cushioned because of a reduction in the amount being handed to the Greater London Authority, as this is the first year that the Olympic Games precept, for the 2012 Games, no longer has to be paid.
So instead of paying an extra £46 a year in Council Tax, Band D properties in Croydon will pay an extra £27.74 a year, or 53p a week.
Unlike many other London boroughs, including Tory-run Wandsworth and Labour-run Lambeth, Croydon receives a much lower grant per capita from central Government. Bishop Jonathan Clark, the chair of Croydon’s Fairness Commission which published its report last month, actively recommended a Council Tax increase to help raise more funds towards local services, especially adult social care.
“The Government has made it possible for councils to put a couple of per cent on Council Tax to pay for adult social care,” Bishop Clark told Inside Croydon. “We think it probably has to happen, otherwise adult social care will almost disappear, and that would be much worse.”
Town Hall politicians of all stripes continue to see it as an affront to their honour – and real threat to their cosy council allowances – if they have to increase local taxes, but after six years of Osborne and Cameron’s austerity agenda squeezing councils to force them to reduce services, Croydon really has little alternative. Between 2010, when Osborne became Chancellor, and 2020, our council his to endure a reduction in funding of 75 per cent in real terms.
So it is a politically brave move for Newman to take, although it does come two years before he and his 39 Labour councillor colleagues have to seek re-election. So he might see it as the last chance for Labour to increase Council Tax before those 2018 local elections.
“I think if you asked people if they wanted to pay an extra 53p a week, they would probably say no,” Newman told the Croydon Guardian.
“But I think if the choice is to pay an extra 53p a week to protect the frontline services, protect the libraries, keep the sports halls open, I think that’s a reasonable deal under the pressure we’re under.”
And then he added: “We’re not going to let Croydon become victim of the Government cuts.” Which seems a little odd, since Newman’s Labour council has been implementing cuts handed down from the Tory Government for the past two years and is in the midst of the latest round of job redundancies at the council as a result.
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