37-34: Mayor’s 15% Council Tax hike rejected in budget vote

Fund Croydon fairly: Hundreds gathered to oppose the 15% Council Tax hike, in the biggest demonstration seen on Katharine Street in 40 years. Pic: Guy Smallman

ANDREW FISHER sat through the three-and-a-half hours of last night’s budget non-setting meeting, so that you didn’t have to

Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat councillors voted together last night to reject the budget proposal from the borough’s Conservative Mayor, Jason Perry, by 37 votes to 34. Both Labour and the Greens stated that they could not support a budget that included Mayor Perry’s 15per cent Council Tax hike.

Paper-shuffling: Jason Perry

The evening had kicked off with a large demonstration outside the Town Hall – a mixture of community groups, concerned residents and trades unionists. Hundreds of people thronged Katharine Street to say “No to 15per cent”, in what some reckoned was the biggest protest seen at Croydon Town Hall for at least 40 years.

Inside the Town Hall Chamber, the meeting began with two powerful speeches representing the 25,000-plus Croydon residents who have signed a petition, started by Inside Croydon, that opposes the 15per cent Council Tax increase and to seek fair funding for Croydon.

The council insisted that the petitioners could not speak from the floor of the Chamber, but must address the meeting from the Public Gallery, conveniently putting them out of sight of at least one-third of the councillors.

Below me in the Press Gallery – which after being closed since the 2020 lockdown has been reopened by the council only after lobbying from Inside Croydon – Mayor Perry did his best to avoid looking at the petitioners, keeping his head lowered and shuffling papers. The Tory Mayor had, to his credit, moved to allow the petition to be heard at a budget-setting meeting – an unprecedented departure from council procedures. But he was clearly uncomfortable with what he was hearing.

You can read the excellent speech given by Ken Towl here, but no less impressive was the seconding speech by GMB trade union officer Rachael Baylis, who spoke of her experience in representing Croydon council staff – many of whose pay is so low that they are also entitled to in-work benefits and are struggling to make ends meet.

Out of sight: many in the Town Hall Chamber could not see the petitioners as they delivered their speeches

The Mayor defended the 15per cent “Perry Premium” Council Tax increase because he was “taking this decision to solve the council finances”.

But the extra £22million raised by the Council Tax hike does not solve anything. As reported previously, Croydon Conservatives’ strategy is reliant on a not-yet-secured £540million debt write-off that would reduce loan repayments by £38million per year. That, and the not inconsiderable £224million new government bail-out that Mayor Perry has asked for, dwarfs the extra raised in Council Tax.

The real question that the Mayor has no answers for is what a 15per cent Council Tax hike will do to the lives of the ordinary, hard-working people of Croydon.

Perry’s budget papers include an assumption that Council Tax collection rates will fall as a result of the sharp increase, but it is only projected to drop by 1per cent. Stuart King, the leader of the Labour group on the council, asked whether that was a realistic estimate, and on what assumptions the 1per cent drop had been forecast. There was no coherent reply.

Throughout the meeting, Mayor Perry proudly promoted a £2million “hardship fund”, a fund using public money to deal with the hardship his proposals would create. But under questioning from Labour and Green councillors, neither Perry nor his cabinet member for finance, Jason Cummings, could explain the process for receiving hardship support from the fund, nor what criteria would be used to determine eligibility.

Hardship fund: Jason Cummings

Cummings claimed that his fund represented “a full 10per cent” of the total rise in Council Tax. Cummings’ calculator must be on the blink since £2million is just 9per cent of the extra raised by exceeding the Council Tax cap with a 15per cent hike. It is a grim irony, though, that this would be far from the first time in council history that the councillor in charge of finances is presenting misleading figures to council.

Rowenna Davis, the councillor who chairs the scrutiny committee, was commended by both sides of the chamber for attending council when heavily pregnant (the baby is due any day now).

She explained painstakingly that only government intervention could deal with the deep-seated structural debt that Croydon has built up – a joint enterprise involving successive administrations and more than a decade of austerity from a Conservative government.

Davis also questioned why an equality impact assessment on the budget was only produced after the scrutiny process had concluded. Questioning from Thornton Heath councillor Tamar Nwafor exposed that there will be a disproportionate impact of the 15per cent tax rise and cuts on Croydon’s black and ethnic minority communities.

The council budget also includes a further £36million of cuts to services.

The argument of the Croydon Conservatives is that it would require another £20million more cuts on top of that – and that would be “unsafe”. Feigning concern at this prospect, Adele Benson, the Conservative councillor elected in New Addington last May, asked a clearly patsy question of how an extra £20million of cuts “would affect the most vulnerable”. She offered no concern or question about the impact of the £36million cuts that are due to happen, and that she later voted for.

Scrutiny: Rowenna Davis remarked on how her committee was denied an equalities report

The Conservative claims of horror at the prospect of further cuts is slightly undermined by the fact that next year (2024-2025), they have pencilled in yet another £27million of service cuts, on top of the £36million this year. Andy Stranack, the Conservative cabinet member from Selsdon, spelt out the consequences: “A smaller council that focuses on statutory services.” And even those are being cut.

More than once during the evening, Conservative councillors appeared to be reaching back to Thatcher and utilising her “TINA” catchphrase – “There Is No Alternative”.

But as King pointed out, there must have been an alternative, because the current administration started preparing the budget in November and it was only in mid-February that the government granted the request to increase council tax by 15per cent. They obviously had a Plan B.

As the votes were cast, the budget was defeated – a victory for the thousands of Croydon residents who had campaigned against it and signed petitions, and for the hundreds who had turned out on a chilly evening.

The saga does not end there. Mayor Perry, Cummings and the council executive must now respond to councillors’ objections and present a new proposal at another meeting on March 8, next Wednesday. That meeting must approve a budget, as the statutory deadline for English councils to deliver such is March 11.

If a budget is not agreed, then the government could send in commissioners to run the council.

Our task as residents is to ensure our voices are heard and amplified between now and March 8.

So please share the petitions with your friends, neighbours and work colleagues; join the march on Saturday, and be outside the Town Hall again March 8 to say “No to 15per cent. Fund Croydon Fairly”.


Read more: The solution to Perry’s finance problem: Fund Croydon Fairly
Read more: If council budget fails to pass, expect a long night on Mar 8
Read more: 10,000 signatures! Now government has to answer our petition

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
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12 Responses to 37-34: Mayor’s 15% Council Tax hike rejected in budget vote

  1. Sarah Bird says:

    Well done to everyone who arranged the Demo and attended. It was good to hear residents views. I did attend and was pleased to be able to speak a raise the question of the 1.6 billion debt and ask where the money was and what steps were being taken to chase the money ?

  2. So Croydon’s political class is going to have to show how it can solve this Gordian knot.

    Of course the disingenuity in all this is that the Administration somehow plans to not increase Council Tax in the year before the next election. This demonstrates the political nature of the budget rather than it being focused on a desperate cash call and the figures show that the amount raised in theory is still inadequate with regards to the financial situation.

    It sounds to me that the solution both sides of Croydon’s political class will find most appealing is that the Central Regime appoints a Commissioner and so will take responsibility for the pain the residents of Croydon face.

    So much for the DEMOC process after this, but nothing more reassuring for a Croydon Councillor than blaming someone else for the mess they created.

  3. Ian Bridge says:

    ‘If a budget is not agreed, then the government could send in commissioners to run the council.’

    Perhaps this would be the best outcome at the moment. If the council were a business they would have stopped trading some while ago.

    • This is the same government that brought you #Partygate, PPE contract fiddles and Trussonomics, and which has failed to publish any of its supposedly quarterly “improvement and assurance panel” reports on Croydon since Dec 2021?

      • Sarah Gills says:

        This government do not know how to manage anything. It would be a disaster but some consultants would make a packet.

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    Definitely. A positive turn out and a big thank you to all that came and voiced their feelings. A big thanks to Rowenna for attending last night and also to all those Councillors who gave up time to make sure that this vote did not go by default.

    Sensible councillors would know that in the end a budget will be agreed or the Government will come in. They would know that all the options have not been explored. They would know that even if the Government sent in commissioners – this would end up costing the Government even more. They would also know that the buck would pass to the Government.
    So politically there was no loss to them by doing so. Unless whipped and career limitations were in place as threats? Were they told to vote for this ordure heap of a budget?
    A sensible Councillor group woiuld have expressed their concerns properly by voting against the 15%. They would at least made the attempts to find other solutions, done effective equality impact assessments, looked at the negative impacts and sought ways to limit those by other means. but mostly have worked collectively. After all the debt was run up collectively.

    Sensible Councillors would know the strenght of feeling in their own back yards and would have listened.
    Afer all, ouncillors are elected to represent the feelings of their Ward.

    Last night, Conservative Councillors displayed clearly their own priorities to be party politic’s and self interest or the fear of being deselected. Those Councillors ignored the feelings of many of those who voted for them. They also ignored true conservative principles by doing so for no good purpose. Lower and apropriated taxation, better services, increased performance and productivity, creating a community with a sense of self belief and self worth. Values most people can understand and want to achieve

    Instead they have created a negative perception for those people in the South who WILL be paying more for less.

    It would be sensible to have a group huddle, chat and do some naval gazing. It might be sensible to – as a group – really decide what you want those voters to think of you come the next election.

    If not

    Might be time for those pragmatic, sensible true conservatives to set up their own independent conservative party and field their own candidates for Council, Mayor and as MP. They can ask the other parties who have no hope of winning tin certain wards to support those independent conservative candidates.

    Maybe then sensible people of all political hues can have a little less shit!

  5. Gerard Cowie says:

    I notice that Part-Time Perry did not even bother to look up to the public gallery when Ken and Rachael spoke. He just treated them with contempt!

  6. yusufaosman says:

    Congrats to all those involved in the various petitions, the 2 speakers for the petition were excellent, concise and poignant. I think everyone recognizes that an increase is necessary but 14.99 in a good year would be difficult to swallow, at the moment it is impossible.

    Perhaps both Conservatives and Labour want commissioners to take over and remove their responsibility for what comes next. If they don’t they will have to find a way of agreeing on a Council Tax rise of somewhere between 5 and 10 per cent although the impact of that on services, particularly adult social care is terrifying.

    Does anyone care to comment on the 43 million figure that kept getting mentioned by Labour Councillors and dismissed by Conservative ones?

  7. Greg says:

    I think everyone now knows Perry is not interested in serving the residents of Croydon. He is a feckless egotistical drainpipe salesman who needs to be removed from office. And his stooge, Cummings, should enrol on a GCSE economics course.

    Perry’s mayoralty is finished – he’s binned all his support and shat over everyone’s good will.

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