Conservatives propose alternative to Council Tax rise

Conservative councillors in Greenwich will vote against Labour plans to increase Council Tax in the borough by 1.99% this evening, instead proposing a fully-costed alternative that would see increased funding for a key scheme to help people into work. The meeting will be the first to be streamed live via the web.

At a council meeting at Woolwich Town Hall, Labour Cabinet members will propose a new Council Tax rise of 1.99%, on top of a separate new Council Tax precept to help fund Adult Social Care. The move comes despite Greenwich Council being left £20.8m better off than it had planned for as a result of the Local Government Finance Settlement, first announced in December.

Labour’s planned 1.99% council tax rise, which would come into force in April, is the maximum the council is allowed by law to introduce without putting its plans to a public vote in a referendum – a move previously criticised by opposition Conservative councillors as a “lawyer’s dodge”.

Conservative councillors’ alternative budget proposal includes;

• Increasing funding for Greenwich Local Labour Programme (GLLP) scheme to help people into work by a further £2m, paid for by bringing an end of public funding for the Tall Ships Regatta in 2017

• Realising £510,000 of savings made possible by the collapse of the council’s legal bid to save Greenwich Time in its weekly form, and scrapping £190,000 currently allocated to subsidise Trade Union activity in the borough

• Using these savings and efficiencies to remove the need to increase Council Tax while still maintaining the same level of services as Labour’s plans, including in under-pressure Children’s Services

The opposition group will also be pushing again for the full implementation of its Welfare Assistance Plus proposal, made 12 months ago, after it emerged that one of the three core elements in this package has since been adopted by the Labour administration as council policy.

The Labour council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy includes an increase in the Discretionary Housing Payment fund, one of three anti-poverty proposals that were included in the Conservative Welfare Assistance Plus package, which Labour councillors voted down in February 2015.

Conservative councillors will be pushing the council to accept the other two elements of the package – an expansion of the council’s successful Living Wage Incentive Scheme, which was first proposed by the Conservative Group before being adopted by the administration, and putting an end to the practice of adding legal costs for Council Tax arrears collection in the case of residents who receive Council Tax Support.

Councillor Matt Hartley, Leader of Greenwich Conservatives, said: “Labour councillors have tried to spin their 1.99% council tax rise as necessary to balance the budget – despite government announcements leaving the council £20.8 million better off than it had projected.

“Our fully-costed alternative proposal shows that the same level of council services can be delivered without the need for a rise in council tax.

“This can be achieved by increasing funding for a key welfare-to-work scheme, using money that Labour councillors have earmarked for yet more Tall Ships vanity spending.  We would instead use that money to fund work placements for local people, in turn reducing budgetary pressures elsewhere with no loss of service.

“This sits alongside our anti-poverty Welfare Assistance Plus proposals – one of which has already been adopted, twelve months later, as council policy despite Labour councillors voting it down at a time. Taken together, our budget alternative would deliver positive social outcomes at the same time as ensuring hardworking council taxpayers in Greenwich are not stung by this Labour tax rise. 

“I urge Labour councillors to do the right thing and use their votes to support our alternative.”

The full Conservative alternative proposal can be found here and the meeting can be watched live online from 7pm here.