Havering Council agrees budget for 2018/19 – including £60 Council Tax increase
PUBLISHED: 11:10 22 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:17 22 February 2018
Havering residents will be paying £60.33 more in Council Tax next year after councillors agreed a rise of 3.78pc at a council meeting last night (Wednesday, February 21).
This means that from April 1, the majority of Havering tax payers will see their Band D tax rise from £1,597.73 to £1,658.06.
The council’s budget for the next financial year, including this Council Tax increase, was passed by 32 votes to nine, with 11 abstentions at Havering Town Hall, Romford.
At the meeting, council leader Cllr Roger Ramsey insisted the authority had done all it could to avoid raising Council Tax more than necessary, and said that, as a result of an increased levy from the GLA, the borough could have raised the charge by as much as 5.99pc.
Introducing his administration’s budget, he said: “We have not taken that step, and have sought in presenting this budget to keep a Council Tax increase as low as we are able to do so in the current circumstances, because we recognise the additional burden that any increase presents for our residents.”
Cllr Ramsey went on to blame “a major and progressive reduction in government funding” since the financial crash of 2009 for Havering’s current deficit, but admitted the borough’s finance bosses have had to be “proactive and often imaginative in trying to manage the budget”.
To help fund an increasingly high demand on the council’s children and adult social services, Cllr Ramsey said his administration had “no realistic choice” but to use the full 2pc social care precept – part of this year’s overall rise in Council Tax – to help raise more than £2m extra for the beleaguered departments.
This means that £76.08 of each household’s tax this year is ring-fenced for use in helping the borough’s most vulnerable people.
A number of other councillors, including leader of the Residents’ Group Ray Morgon and UKIP group leader Cllr Lawrence Webb, raised concerns about the lack of response to Havering’s public consultation on the planned tax increase.
Despite running a month-long online questionnaire on this year’s budget proposals, only 251 people responded.
Of these, council records show only 40 people commented directly on proposed increases to Council Tax – with 16 allegedly in favour, two offering up no opinion and 22 opposing.
Cllr Morgon also expressed disbelief at the news the service consultation takers were most in favour of cutting was parking.
He told the meeting: “I find that difficult to believe, I’m not entirely sure they knew what point they were making there.”
Leader of the East Havering Residents Group and cabinet member for financial management, Cllr Clarence Barrett, congratulated the council’s officers on being able to draw up a budget in such a difficult economic climate.
But he was among a number of councillors who warned that until central government changed its funding formula – this year Havering’s Revenue Support Grant from Westminster will decrease from £12m to £7m – more difficult decisions will have to be made.
He added: “The fix local government needs won’t be achieved by a few sticking plasters, but needs major surgery.”
He was not the only councillor to blast the government’s approach to financing councils across the country.
Cllr David Durant, of the Independent Residents Group, described it as a “Frankenstein formula” that had become more and more unfair since it was first introduced.
Councillors also confirmed their current level of allowances will remain the same next year, after a vote was passed by 41 votes to three, with eight abstentions.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Ramsey said: “Havering has taken a proactive approach to managing its budgetary pressures over a number of years.
“We have worked hard to drive down the cost of our service provision, which remain amongst the lowest in London.
“Our demand management and transformation projects for adults and children’s social care are starting to bear fruit to secure improved value for money whilst ensuring that families get the support that they need.”