Since we issued a call to action for our supporters and activists to hold the council leaders who had lost your money in Icelandic banks as well as those London councils who opposed a tax freeze, we’ve had a few responses from London council leaders opposed to the rise.
From Barking and Dagenham council leader Charles Fairbrass MBE we got the following:
“Presumably you are against the bailout of the banks with tax payer’s money and you are also against the government bailing out those Councils that have lost their Council Tax payers money in Icelandic banks.”
Cllr Fairbrass, we’re against Councils hoarding money away when it should be returned to the taxpayer in tax cuts. But then again given the record of Cllr Fairbrass’s administration, I don’t think they’ve ever met a tax increase they didn’t like. We [i.e. the general public] also don’t have access to his way of beating the credit crunch – that £45,028 councillor salary he gets off Barking and Dagenham taxpayers.
Please keep up the assault on Cllr Fairbrass, letting him know that he and other council leaders must take responsibility and will be held accountable if their over-spending budgets leave us with higher tax bills next year. Follow up with an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
From Southwark Council we got a rather combative reply from council leader Nicholas Stanton:
Since I became leader of Southwark Council six years ago council tax bills have fallen from some of the highest in London to some of the lowest.
This year we are cutting over 1 million pounds from our communications spend.
We are pledged not to increase council tax by more than RPI. (ed: That’s inflation, currently running at 4.7!)
Unlike George Osborne I think council tax should be scrapped. It is unrelated to the ability to pay and is unfair. Unlike George Osborne I think that the government urgently needs to recalculate the formula it uses to decide how much grant to give to Southwark as we are being unfairly cut at the moment.
You do not say whether or not you live in Southwark.”
Firstly, if you follow up, please make it clear to Cllr. Stanton that a reply shouldn’t depend on whether you live in Southwark because 75% of Southwark’s funding comes from general taxation – i.e. your money! It’s good to get on record, however, that Southwark is cutting £1million off its communications budget – something we will definitely hold them to account on if they don't. Again, the worry is that they will increase council tax at the rate of inflation. So be sure for a 4.7% increase in your Southwark council tax next year.
Cllr Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth Council, here pledges to a freeze for the next two years:
"I’m very proud of the fact that Lambeth has one of the lowest levels of council tax in the country and, following the 40% increase pushed through by the previous Lib Dem / Tory coalition between 2002-6, our current Labour administration has kept increases at the level of inflation for the past two years and is looking at a freeze for the next two years. We are achieving that by cutting out waste and inefficiency in a way our predecessor administration failed to do."
This, more than ever, means we have to keep up the pressure, showing support for a freeze in council tax in Lambeth. As he’s been on the record with us now, however, we will be keeping a special eye on Lambeth to see Cllr Reed sticks to his pledge. Please send your follow up emails urging a freeze to email@example.com.
Mayor Sir Robin Wales of Newham has replied, well a member of his staff has replied, saying his ‘council tax team’ is looking into our lobby for a council tax freeze. Watch this space for a more thorough reply from Sir Robin.
Our final response comes from Cllr Lourie of Richmond:
"I have now received three similar emails inspired by the Taxpayers’ Alliance. (ed: RESULT!)
This Council has never taken a view on George Osborne’s proposal for councils to freeze council tax. (ed: Erm…see here to find out that you have or the Evening Standard is misquoting you: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23562433-details/Half+of+boroughs+oppose+Tory+council+tax+freeze/article.do)
Our objective is to keep increases as low as possible at below or around the rate of inflation. As the lowest spending council per head in London, we have been largely successful as, apart from an increase of 15.6% in 2003/04 we have a reputation as an efficient Council. We are one of only six councils in the country who have been ranked as “excellent” in value for money by the independent Audit Commission.
I appreciate that the global “credit crunch” is taking its toll and even before this we have kept our costs as low as possible. This year we need to cut over £5 million off our budget to achieve a council tax increase of around the rate of inflation.
On the three possible savings you propose
(1) council PR, (2) self-congratulatory council literature and (3) gold-plated pensions
I would comment as follows:
(1) We have outsourced our communications to Westminster City Council, who have a deserved reputation as being the best in the business and also as being very economical. They bring in substantial income through enabling film companies to shoot here;
(2) The council produces literature that is required by statute and good practice. We try never to be “self-congratulatory” and score highly amongst local residents for keeping them properly informed;
(3) I have a lot of sympathy for your view on “gold plated” pensions”. Sadly, this is outside our control as the Local Government Pension Scheme is decreed by Government and paid for locally.
We keep our management structures under review and since we took over the Council from the Conservatives in 2006, have continued to reduce the complexity of our structure. There is always more one can do and officers and members are determined that we should provide proper services with as little overhead as possible.
I have already responded on publicity and pension contributions
Thank you again for your email. It is always helpful that members of the public monitor what we do. If you have any concrete suggestions on how we can save money, my colleagues and I would like to hear from you.”
This is interesting because either Cllr Lourie is telling porkies about not opposing Osborne’s freeze or his communications department has put their foot in it and not told Cllr Lourie they’ve opposed it. Or they’re lying. Again, a tax increase at the rate of inflation means a tax hike of 4.7% - dangerously close to the 5% cap central government threatens to impose.
If you want to hold your London council to account and join our grassroots lobby for a freeze in council tax, click here. Or if your council has lost your money in an Icelandic bank and you want to hold them to account click here. With either, if you get any responses email them over to me so we can hold these politicians to what they say!
One thing is for certain with our lobbying campaigns holding politicians to account: We will not be going away!