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  • Writer's pictureDavid Taylor

Council Tax Goes Up 5%

On February 28th, Havering's Councillors voted to put Council tax up by 4.99%. This means that a Band D Property will see their tax go up by £119.70 per year, to over £2,200.


In this blog, I'll break down some of the key discussion points from this budget setting meeting and more information on spending and cuts decisions


You can watch my short speech, or read it, on the link below.







Havering's 'Bankruptcy'.

First of all, Havering isn't bankrupt and it wasn't going bankrupt. It can't. So what was all the noise about?


Havering, like all other councils, has multiple pots of money. Accounting rules mean that money can't be moved from one pot to another. There is a pot for the day to day spending, known as the General Fund (GF) and another for Housing. Amongst others.


The GF is where council tax goes and it is what is used to pay for our social care, pot holes etc. The Housing fund can only be used to buy or build new homes and to maintain existing ones.


By law, the GF has to balance each year. So what we spend has to be the same as what we bring in. The housing account doesn't have to and it often takes out huge loans to build new developments.


Havering Council cannot balance it's GF this year, without permission to borrow some money. This is because the government has increasingly asked us to deliver more services and not increased the funding the provide to us to deliver them.


So, we must borrow, which is the £54m 'loan' we've all been reading about. It isn't a loan, by the way, it's more like an overdraft and will only be used if it has to be.


Last year, the council overspent by around £20m. So, we spent £20m more than we expected to. This gap also has to be filled and so £20m of the 'loan' will be used for that.


Council taxes cannot go up by more than 5% without special permission from the government or a referendum amongst residents. Havering decided not to pursue that route.


Would you have voted for a bigger rise?



Spending Decisions vs Cuts

Despite the news about us not being able to balance the budget, I used my budget speech (we only get 3 minutes) to highlight that the administration (Labour and RA) still have a choice about where they spend what they do have.


The council chose to not charge for 30minutes parking in Hornchurch and Upminster, like they do in Romford. If they did, they'd raise another £1m a year and we would have more to spend or less to borrow.


There are decisions to send huge sums of money to Queens Theatre. That's a choice.


And remember the parking price rises? Well we campaigned against them and they got stopped or reduced. But, the HRA councillors tell us it wasn't due to our resident campaign it was down to them making a choice. They even laughed at Cllr Martin Goode when he reminded them that 1700 residents signed a petition against charging in parks. Wow, what a way to disrespect the public who signed it!


So, we can't let the administration get away with only talking about government funding. Yes, Havering needs more government funding. Simple. But our council can still make choices.


Alternative Budget

The Conservatives put forward some proposed changes.


We wanted to fully fund the special needs (SEND) school transport. The council have cut £200k from the budget. They claim it won't cause any harm and that they will give parents more choice. I argued that the demand isn't going to go down, it will go up, so they shouldn't be reducing the budget.


We also wanted to follow the legal advice about the market. Councillors were told that lawyers have advised against closing the Sunday market, until a relevant bill has passed in Parliament. So, we put forward a plan that would fully fund the Sunday market and would even make the stalls cheaper to attract more stalls back.


Where did we get the money from?

Remember, there are choices to be made, also remember that GF vs Housing budget pot.


Tackling Homelessness

Havering spends £6m a year on housing people in temporary accommodation, such as hotels and B&Bs. These are not the refugee claimants, they are Havering families. This is paid for out of the GF (not housing) and for every 1 person (or family) housed we save around £30k a year in the GF.


So, we simply said "let's use the housing account to buy homes and house these families".


The council officers agreed they could do this for 10 families (they already had plans for more) and that it would take them 6 months to do. But, it meant we had £150k we can spend somewhere else.


House homeless people, have more money to spent. Win win, right?


Then, we proposed pausing the Romford Masterplan consultation. This was more controversial.


The plan has been in the making for years and we do need it. It'll give a steer to Romford's development over then next decade and help us regenerate the town. Apparently... But, we think that when we're cutting SEND transport budgets, consultations like this can wait.


The voting.

Ultimately, we were never going to get our budget changes through.


I believe we made the right proposals. We house homeless families, fully funded SEND transport and kept our market going whilst making it cheaper for the stall holders.


But, Conservatives don't run the town-hall. We are in opposition.


Labour joined the HRA and voted against our proposal and in favour of the original budget.


HRA Defectors.

Not all is calm in the HRA, with many of their own councillors disagreeing with the budget. Two HRA councillors have now left the group and formed their own group. Councillors Philip Ruck and John Tyler have formed the Havering Resident's Independent Group.


What is interesting is that both of these Councillors represented the HRA in the same ward as HRA Deputy Leader Gillian Ford. What's going on in Cranham!?


Finally, HRA Councillor James Glass abstained on the HRA budget.


Will the HRA survive another 2 years in power? Or will they fall apart before then? Remember, they are a coalition of smaller parties, unlike Labour or Conservatives. They are more fragile.


 

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