Hammersmith and Fulham Council will cut Council Tax for an impressive seventh year out of eight next year. This represents a cut of 20% since 2006, and a return to a low level of tax last seen in 1999. Whilst the average cost to UK households in Council Tax has doubled to £1,439 per year, Hammersmith and Fulham plans to reduce its Band D rate by 3% to £735.
The cost of housing and energy has put more and more pressure on households in recent years, and with 75% of county councils reportedly planning to hike Council Tax, the cost of living is only set to keep going up. So it is great to see a council granting its residents a real reprieve from the cost of living crisis.
Hammersmith and Fulham shares £300 million of its public services with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council. Together they will have saved £43 million a year by 2015/16.
They have reformed the way services are delivered - less as a direct provider and more as a commissioner of services. This has included outsourcing street cleaning, parks maintenance, human resources and finance support. It has also encouraged its staff, and other local voluntary groups providing services, to set up staff mutual and social enterprises to improve efficiency.
They have reduced their debt by £100 million since 2004 by selling unused council buildings, like Fulham Town Hall, Hammersmith Irish Centre and Shepherd’s Bush Village Hall. This represents a nearly 60% reduction in debt, which has further eased the burden on taxpayers by cutting back on debt repayment.
Cutting Council Tax represents a real saving for hard-pressed families. Too often, advocates of higher government spending ignore those who are squeezed by an oppressive tax burden.
The government will have cut central grant funding for councils by 43% by 2015. Profligate councils and the anti-cuts brigade have fiercely opposed spending reductions. They claimed that local services would suffer, communities would be left poorer, care for the vulnerable would be slashed, and jobs would be lost. All that has been missing from the critics’ rhetoric are the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Local Government Association Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell recently said “uncertainty and risk which will put even more stress on vital local services and push councils toward failure.”
But as the cuts have been implemented, the critics have been increasingly proved wrong. Six out of ten people in the UK feel that the quality of their local public services has either not worsened or actually improved, according to a recent ICM poll.
The message is clear: spending cuts work. Sensible spending reductions, paired with significant tax cuts, are popular as well as the right thing to do. And the public know this.
Our ‘201 Ways to Save’ report, authored by Cllr Harry Phibbs of Hammersmith and Fulham, highlighted a number of ways councils can save money. They can share services with neighbouring councils, freeze recruitment, combine executive staff roles and publish corporate credit card use. They can buy supplies in bulk rather than at various prices for the same product.
Other councils must follow the example of Hammersmith and Fulham. Hiking Council Tax while many families are still struggling to get by is an insult and should not be tolerated.