Islington politicians approve ‘recovery budget’ that will see council tax rise by over four per cent

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Citizen

Council tax in Islington will go up by the maximum allowed as politicians approved a “recovery budget” designed to help the borough cope with the financial impact of the pandemic.

Islington Council will put up its portion of the tax by 2.99 per cent. With the precept for the Greater London Authority, which pays for services like police, fire and public transport, residents will see an overall council tax hike of 4.27 per cent.

It means people living in Band D homes will pay £1,710.24, apart from those on the enhanced council tax benefit scheme, who will pay 82p less a week.

Cllr Satnam Gill, the executive member for finance, told colleagues at the full council meeting that the tax is “still below the London average”.

The Labour-run council is currently facing a £38m budget gap over the next three years.

This year’s budget includes £6.7m savings.

Cllr Gill said the council is “prioritising services to help local people cope with the cost of living crisis”.

He said with extra expenditure and the loss of income from a range of services including rates, events and parking, “the pandemic is expected to have a significant lasting impact on the council’s budget”.

He added: “[The budget] also continues to safeguard investment in the services and support which people value and rely on.”

The council is also spending £25m towards reaching net zero by 2030, improvements for women’s and girls’ safety, more childcare support for low income families, and £0.5m on youth services.

Council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz said the “budget supports local people when they need it most”.

The £6.7m savings package includes restructuring targeted youth support, cutting down on overtime and agency staff and negotiating more joint funded physical disability care packages. The council plans to save money from the temporary accommodation bill too.

The Town Hall is planning to spend £16m on social housing and £858,000 on redeveloping the Finsbury leisure centre, £1.1m on people-friendly streets, and £1.1m on improving Chapel Market.

Opposition councillor Caroline Russell (Green) proposed an alternative budget with measures including an increase of 400 per cent on parking permits, with the cheapest costing £150 a year, and trialling a £19,700 basic income scheme for 136 care leavers.

She also wants to see a 100 per cent council tax reduction scheme by 2023 and a climate emergency fund to help low-income households move to greener transport.

She also proposed a hit squad that could tackle the council’s “repairs backlogs and cold, damp and mouldy homes” over the next three years, with a £241,000 a year fund to deal with the problems.

Labour said there was not a backlog of repairs.

Cllr Russell said: “This budget addresses some of the primary concerns that residents talk to you about, council tax arrears, housing repairs, fire safety issues, cost of living crisis and the climate emergency.”

She said the cost of living crisis “is looking increasingly bleak for everyone in terms of further hikes of food and energy crisis”.

Cllr Russell said the Labour leadership says poorer residents do not have cars, so her proposed parking permit increase of around £3 a week is unlikely to affect them.

The only Conservative on the council, Rakhia Ismail, who is standing down in May, urged councillors, if they want to help people in need, to “take off your shades and stop talking yourselves and talk to the real people of Islington”.

Cllr Gill said he was shocked by the Green alternatives and despite aims to encourage people to take cars off the road, said: “In this current crisis when cost of living is going up I don’t think a 400 per cent [increase on parking permits] is acceptable.”

The council’s budget – the last before this May’s local elections – was passed by the Labour majority.