Council tax to rise by 2.99 per cent as finance chief bemoans ‘forced’ cuts

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council

Islington’s finance chief has hit out at decreased levels of central government funding, stating that austerity policies are leaving council workers increasingly “overstretched”.

Council Tax in the borough is set to rise by 2.99 per cent, an average increase of 65p a week for residents, with the Town Hall cutting 190 internal posts to balance the books.

Islington has lost 70 per cent of its core government funding since 2010.

Sickness and absence in the council, particularly in its street and environmental services departments, were blamed for a £1.6m overspend in the Town Hall’s budget in September.

Cllr Andy Hull (Lab, Highbury West), executive member for finance, performance and community safety, said: “The Tories are forcing us to find a further £50m of savings, on top of the £225m of savings we have already been forced by government to find since 2010.

“Here we stand about to pass a budget that none of us came into politics to cut.

“More broadly the council is being increasingly stretched, and that shows in all sorts of places, whether it’s staff sickness figures or colleagues who feel they can’t take annual leave because the work is too relentless.”

Policies announced in this year’s budget include:

  • £187m ringfenced for construction of new socially rented council homes
  • Bringing internal pay ratio to below 1:9, less than half the recommended level for public sector workers
  • A commitment of an extra £500,000 per year for targeted youth work

For the first time, Islington Council will be planning out a budget over three years, in a move the Town Hall says is designed to offer “certainty” to residents over service provision.

Cllr Hull added that he was “disappointed” with Islington’s single opposition councillor, Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East), for failing to respond to an invitiation to meet with either himself or Islington Council leader Cllr Richard Watts (Lab, Tollington) to discuss the budget, and characterised her alternative proposals as “tinkering at the edges”.

Cllr Russell responded: “I’m very sorry, Cllr Watts, I didn’t receive your email, I’m sure it’s probably buried in my inbox.

“I want to acknowledge the extraordinary work of council officers keeping Islington’s show on the road in very difficult budget circumstances.

“My amendment raises funds on the basis that it should never be cheaper to park a car than a bicycle.

“If we want to clean up our air, then we should be encouraging cycling, not offering free parking to cars, so I propose the cost of parking a bike in a hangar is added to the price of every annual parking permit, raising £2.4m.”

Other policies proposed in Cllr Russell’s budget amendment include:

  • removing the 8.5 per cent contribution to council tax from residents eligible for council tax support
  • every electric vehicle charging points being given a pavement build-out
  • an additional £0.5m each year for adult social services, with an additional £1.4m in 2019.

The opposition amendment was voted down by the Labour-controlled council, while Cllr Russell abstained on the Labour budget, which was otherwise unanimously voted in.