Council tax set to rise amid 'hand-to-mouth' Covid-19 government funding

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Ar

Cllr Richard Watts, Islington Council leader. - Credit: Archant

Islington Council tax may increase by nearly five per cent next year in light of broken promises of support from government during the coronavirus pandemic.

The authority published its draft budget proposal for 2021/22 on January 13, which shows next year the borough is looking to increase basic Islington Council tax by 1.99 per cent and apply a 3pc Adult Social Care (ASC) precept or face an ongoing hole in its budget, according to calculations. 

While the borough's Core Spending Power (CSP), a measure of the resources available to local authorities to fund service delivery, has increased, it has done so at a slightly lesser rate than the national average.  

This means the average property owner could see a £1.17 per week increase and council tax support recipients a 10p increase.

The choice between identical increases in council tax (1.99pc) or potentially greater budget black holes has been laid out for the next three years. 

Calling out the "massive" government cuts during 10 years of austerity which have been exacerbated by the Covid crisis, the authority's leaders say they are committed to protecting valued services and investing in the borough and residents’ futures.

"We have been hit really hard," said Islington leader Cllr Richard Watts, explaining how the council has been doing much more in terms of adult social care, PPE, transport, schools and "a whole range of other stuff" in response to the pandemic.

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Islington has also lost income with people no longer visiting leisure centres, parking or sending their kids to nursery in the numbers seen before the pandemic. 

Cllr Watts called out the government for promising “to give us all the money we needed to fight Covid” but not following through, which meant Islington was “left in limbo”.

He said: “It’s bad enough the government has cut our money and is not funding us properly during the pandemic, but that is exacerbated by not having the certainty of knowing how much we are going to get.

“It does feel like we're living in a hand-to-mouth existence in government funding at the moment."

Despite the issues Islington Council faces, it has vowed to build over 200 new council homes next year, continue to combat climate change and keep people safe and supported from Covid-19 and crime.

The budget sets out specific support for reducing youth violence as well as helping people find work amid increasing unemployment in the borough.

Funding for high profile projects is also included in the draft budget proposal, with £1m set to improve Barnard Park in Barnsbury, a half-million-pound facelift planned for the King Square shopping area and improvements to schools such as Ambler and Hugh Myddelton.

Council leaders also vowed to continue supporting residents with new funding to keep its We Are Islington hub operating seven days a week.

Cllr Satnam Gill OBE. Picture: Islington Council

Cllr Satnam Gill OBE. Picture: Islington Council - Credit: Archant

Cllr Satnam Gill, executive member for finance and performance, added: "We’ve put in huge amounts of effort because we think it’s really important to protect the most vulnerable in Islington.

“So we’ve got a huge offer in terms of support scheme.

“We have always said it doesn’t matter what costs.

“If we need to support people in difficulty, we will do that and we have continued to do that through the year – whether the government comes up with the money or not.”

In response to the Islington leaders' comments, a government spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "Councils continue to play a critical role during the pandemic and we are ensuring they have the resources needed to deliver effective services for their communities."

They added that next year the government will give local authorities an additional £2.2 billion to deliver services, including for social care and £3 billion towards Covid-19 pressures. 

The spokesperson added: "Islington Council will receive over £9 million of additional grant funding next year on top of over £36 million of emergency funding already allocated, over £27 million of which is non-ringfenced.

"Next year they will also receive an expected increase in core spending power of over £8 million."

READ MORE: Islington leader Richard Watts warns councils will fold unless government steps in with more coronavirus funding

READ MORE: Islington Council leader warns of ‘catastrophic consequences’ for public services if government fails to make further funding available during pandemic