Islington Council rubber stamps 2021 budget with 5% council tax bill hike
- Credit: Zoom
Islington Council's proposal to effectively hike council tax by nearly five per cent has been rubber stamped.
A budget for the next financial year was approved by the Labour-led council last night (February 25).
Basic council tax is increasing by 1.99pc, along with a 3pc adult social care (ASC) precept, meaning the average household will have to pay an extra £60 this year.
The plan accounts for further increases of 1.99pc over the next two years to try to plug a £25m shortfall blamed on the coronavirus pandemic.
Addressing the full council meeting held on Zoom, finance chief Cllr Satnam Gill OBE said the budget was designed to create a "fairer Islington and a fairer future".
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"We've done all of this despite the lack of support by the government," he said.
"At the start of the pandemic the Secretary of State [for Housing, Robert] Jenrick told councils to do 'whatever it takes' to support people through this crisis and that the government would cover the cost.
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"Of course they didn't, and after a decade of Tory austerity all we received were empty promises, gaslighting and grants that don't come close to covering our costs.
"The past year has been particularly hard, with many businesses closed, a near trebling of those on universal credit and thousands losing their jobs."
The Labour administration dismissed amendments put forward by Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East) - although her proposal from last year to charge a fee for parking electric vehicles has been taken up by the council in this year's budget.
This year she asked for council tax arrears accumulated by the borough's poorest residents eligible for council tax relief to be wiped and for the creation of two fixed-term posts dedicated to new jobs and living wage apprenticeships and another two posts to support the roll-out of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).
She also wanted to cut the cost of bike hangars and street planters.
In addition, Cllr Russell suggested commissioning a report looking into charging for electric vehicles based on battery capacity or vehicle weight.
Council leader Richard Watts said the council would explore some of her "potentially interesting ideas", but added: "It's really hard to change the budget of a multi-hundred-million pound organisation with hundreds of staff when you first see a budget amendment a week before this meeting.
"So we have to be honest and say this amendment was not introduced with Caroline having any expectation that we would be able to agree any of it."
Cllr Russell replied: "Thank you for reading my budget amendment. It was made with good heart and in a spirit of wanting to do something positive and constructive."
Cllr Gill asked Cllr Russell to withdraw her amendment, accusing her of "political point-scoring out of the climate crisis".
He added: "I would suggest that's the best thing to do [to withdraw the amendment]. She's said how much she supports our speakers and our budget, and we all want to reduce the amount of cars on the roads. That's why we are investing in People Friendly Streets.
"I would urge Caroline to stop this petty political posturing."
The approved budget will see a further £80m investment in the authority's ongoing programme to build 550 new council homes by next year.
More than £17m is being pumped into projects to support the council's Vision 2030 environmental strategy, with £6m to develop more People Friendly Streets as part of its work to deliver 20 LTNs by 2023.
The council will also invest £8million on further electrifying its vehicle fleet and the supporting infrastructure, installing more than 150 on-street bike hangars, and planting more than 400 trees and investing in recycling facilities on about 30 estates.
It will continue to operate its We Are Islington response line, assistance programme and food distribution efforts for those affected by the pandemic.
Additionally, it will boost its resident support scheme, doubling award values to help those whose incomes have been affected by Covid-19, and the council tax support scheme which helps more than 26,000 households.