Council tax frozen for a record 10th year
Hackney Council has agreed to freeze council tax for a record 10th consecutive year – the only local authority in the country ever to do so.
The move was approved at a full council meeting last night, when the 2015/16 budget was approved. It was also confirmed that Hackney’s central government grant for the next financial year will be reduced by a further £36m, bringing the total government reduction to £130m – or 35% – since 2010.
Despite the budget reduction, protecting front line services will remain the highest priority. The Council will also be maintaining its commitment to build 3,000 new homes in the borough, along with a major schools building programme, both schemes being funded differently from day-to-day services.
With residents’ wages largely frozen and household bills continuing to rise, I believe it’s only right that we do all we can to help residents cope with the cost of living. Reorganising services and careful financial management means that we are able to continue to protect vital services for vulnerable people, as well as maintain the services that residents tell us matter most to them; keeping the streets clean, our parks looked after, making sure we do all we can to make people feel safe, providing youth services, and ensuring everyone can access education and employment opportunities.
But constantly reducing costs and finding cheaper ways to do things will only take us so far, and going forward we know that this will be increasingly challenging. Areas such as Hackney have felt government cuts harder than more wealthy areas because we rely on our central government grant to a greater extent to help cover costs for things such as temporary accommodation for those in housing need, services for looked after children, adult social care, and much more.
We’ve already made back office savings, scaled back on layers of management and looked at supplies, contracts and how we provide services; now we have to think more creatively. The maximum 1.99% rise the Council can increase the council tax without a referendum would raise just £400,000. That sounds a lot, but should be seen alongside the facts that the Freedom Pass alone costs Hackney £12m a year, adult social care £100m, a primary school costs around £9m to build, and that the government has cut our grant by £130m since 2010.
Our population continues to rise and we need to act decisively to meet their needs, with new homes, new and expanded schools and investment in local infrastructure. There is no funding from government for us to do this, so we need to find the money ourselves. This means continuing to unlock the borough’s high land values to generate the funds, including homes for private sale, that allow us to maximise the number of affordable homes we provide out of any development, build the new schools we need, and develop vital social amenities.
Above all this budget seeks to protect services, but also demonstrates our creative and ambitious approach to make sure the borough has the infrastructure it needs over the next decade.