Posts Tagged council tax

Council tax freeze for Islington

It’s official – no council tax rise for Islington this year.

Last night’s Council meeting did go for a freeze, as I’d hoped and predicted.

Good news for Islington residents.

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One freeze we’d welcome

It’s council budget time again in Islington.

Islington’s Lib Dems first took control of Islington Council 10 years ago following the Hillrise by-election, where the level of council tax was a crucial issue. Under Labour, Islington had the highest council tax in the country and some of the worst services.

The LibDems pledged to cut the council tax and then to keep it below the London average, while improving services: a promise they’ve kept ever since.

Last year, controversially, Labour councillors took advantage of the hospitalisation of Lib Dem Cllr Donna Boffa to force through a council tax rise, rather than the freeze that LibDems wanted.

Islington residents who might have forgotten life under Labour will have taken note that on the one day in a decade when they had a majority, Labour put up our taxes.

This year Liberal Democrat councillors will be proposing a council tax freeze again, and it looks as if they’ve got Labour to concede. We’ll find out at the Council meeting next Thursday.

Labour not putting taxes up? It must be election year….

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Council tax: will Labour eat their words?

Islington residents will have smiled wryly at the claim that Labour-led boroughs will be freezing the Council Tax next year.

As we know all too well, Islington Labour put up our council tax this year, to pay for their pet project of universal free primary school meals. Given that families on low incomes already get free meals, Islington Labour’s scheme is redistributing money from poorer council tax payers to richer parents. There are also concerns about whether this will distort the ‘free school meals’ tally on which many government grants to Islington depend. Plus it’s not at all clear that schools have the infrastructure or the budgets to deliver free school meals across the board. Even school meals champion Jamie Oliver has doubts that this is the best use of limited funds.

As Islington’s lone Green councillor, Katie Dawson, said at the time, “I’ve become increasingly nervous about how the free school meals will be funded. I’ve agonised over this and taken professional advice and remain unconvinced that going into a recession it is wise to empty all the coffers of the council.”

Other councils piloting free school meals – like Newham, Wolverhampton and County Durham – are getting their schemes subsidised by central government. If national Labour think this is such a good idea that they will fund it elsewhere, why do they expect local council taxpayers to pick up the whole bill in Islington? And if Islington’s Labour MPs really have clout on behalf of our community, why didn’t they get us into the national pilot instead? It seems they care more about posturing than policy.

Meanwhile the Lib Dem council is taking real action to improve things for local kids. There’s a new uniform grant for children starting secondary school. Record results at Key Stages 1 and 2, and the best GCSE results ever, show the difference we’ve made. Nationally, Lib Dem plans for a pupil premium would see class sizes halved for 5-7 year olds. By contrast Labour’s policy is not to cut class sizes but to cut teachers.

When Labour ran Islington, we had the highest council tax in the country and some of the worst services. Since then Lib Dems have regularly cut and frozen the council tax; and even in years when it’s gone up, it’s stayed below the London average. Then this year, the first time Labour had a majority in the Town Hall for a decade, they put the tax up again.

Judge them by their deeds not their words.

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That YouTube link…

… is now updated and you can see the highlights of Islington’s council tax debate here.

I’ve corrected the link in my previous post too; just in time, as the increased council tax bills are now hitting the door mats.

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The comrades aren’t listening

Islington’s budget meeting (where Labour put up our council tax to fund universal free school meals) is now out on YouTube.

It’s shocking to hear Labour calling each other ‘comrade’, a real blast from the past. Don’t they realise their tax rise will hurt far more people -and more vulnerable people – than it will help?

Meanwhile Jamie Oliver has condemned Labour’s free school meals plan. As he says “British law at the moment is: if you are so poor you can’t afford it, the government will pay for your free school meal. That’s more than adequate.” His argument is that it’s better to invest money in better school kitchens or quality ingredients than to subsidise turkey twizzlers for all.

Sadly it seems the comrades aren’t listening.

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Islington’s council tax debate debacle

The dramatic Islington council budget meeting – and shock council tax rise from Labour – continue to make the news.

There’s coverage in the Islington Gazette, the Tribune, the Evening Standard, and a thoughtful analysis on Jeremy Hargreaves’ blog.

Meanwhile I’ve received this message from Council leader James Kempton:

“I am writing to inform you that Labour councillors blocked our Liberal Democrat proposals to freeze the council tax this year. At last night’s council meeting to set Islington’s 2009 budget, they imposed a 2.5% rise on hard pressed Islington residents struggling through the recession, which is the highest council tax rise anywhere in inner London.

“My colleagues and I have been speaking to hundreds of local residents over the past few weeks who have backed our campaign against the council tax going up. Hundreds of people have signed our petition and written letters of support.

“I am very sorry that Labour cynically took advantage of the absence of one of our Liberal Democrat councillors who was rushed to hospital for an emergency procedure to push through this unwelcome tax rise.

“Liberal Democrats have kept our promise every year to keep council tax below the London average, and residents trust us to keep bills low whilst improving services. But Labour doesn’t care about residents except wanting to keep their hands on more of their hard earned cash.

“As if Gordon Brown hasn’t done enough damage, here we have Labour rubbing salt in the wound, squeezing more money out of hard pressed residents who are already suffering from the worst recession in 100 years

“In the council meeting last night, Labour councillors were calling each other “comrades.” It was just like ten years ago, when the then Labour council saddled residents with the highest council tax in London . Labour’s council tax hike shows what would happen if Labour ever took back control of the council again.

“If you haven’t done so already please sign our petition at http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/dontraiseourcounciltax to show your support for this campaign, and to send a message to Labour that they are not listening to the wishes of the people of Islington.”

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Labour impose inner London’s highest council tax rise on Islington

So now we know.

As soon as they get the chance, Labour jack up our taxes.

Last night’s budget meeting in Islington was always going to be dramatic. With equal numbers of Labour and Lib Dem councillors, plus one independent and one Green, I hoped that a sensible majority would back the Lib Dem proposal to freeze the council tax. After all that’s clearly what local people wanted.

Then Cllr Donna Boffa – who was already poorly when I saw her last weekend – was hospitalised: and Labour seized their chance to hijack the budget.

When Labour ran Islington Council, we had the highest council tax in London. Last night, true to form, they gave us London’s highest council tax rise.

Labour councillors may be feeling jubilant that they’ve got their tax rise through; but it is ordinary Islington residents who will be paying the price.

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More on Islington’s council tax debate

The Islington Gazette has a letter from Cllr John Gilbert.

Meanwhile there’s a whole page of letters in the Islington Tribune arguing both sides of the case – for a council tax freeze or for a rise in council tax to fund universal free school meals.

I’ve already made my views clear: we’ll find out the Council’s decision when they set the budget next Thursday.

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Council tax freeze: yes please!

Last night a group of us were out petitioning in Barnsbury and St Mary’s on the council tax issue.

Next week Islington Council has to decide on its budget: the Lib Dem group is proposing a council tax freeze, the Labour group a 2.5% rise to pay for universal free school meals.

We had people literally queuing up to sign our petition – at one house (ironically a stone’s throw from the Labour MP’s office), one resident came hurrying down from the top floor flat to sign the petition, only to have to wait until a passer by had finished signing. It’s certainly a popular issue.

I’ve sent this email to Cllr John Gilbert, the council’s lead member on finance, setting out my views:

“Dear John,

“I’m sure you’re getting lots of emails about this, but I wanted to put my views on the record as well.
I think you are absolutely right to propose a council tax freeze at this time, and I hope you get all the support you need to get this through at the council budget meeting.

“I’m not against raising taxes to deliver essential services in principle – indeed I fought a general election on the need to raise income tax modestly to fund more money for our schools. But the state has no automatic right to our money. The case for raising taxes has to be that the money is raised in the right way, to spend on the right things, at the right time.

“Is this the right way to raise money? No. Council tax is a desperately unfair tax. It does not relate to your ability to pay. Instead it is based on the notional value of your home. While the very poorest get help from benefits to pay it (which is in itself an admission that the tax is unfair) people on low incomes or modest savings pay the same as their next door neighbour on a top salary, even if they consume fewer council services. It’s particularly unfair on pensioners and others on fixed incomes. And on tenants who are being taxed on an asset they don’t own. I have always supported the Lib Dem national policy to abolish council tax and to do our bit to keep council tax below the national average locally. So if a freeze is possible, it’s the right thing to do.

“Is the rise proposed to go on the right things? Labour’s tax increase is not, in my view, going on the best things. Their two big ideas are universal free school meals and a small rebate for some pensioners. The latter is only necessary because they are putting council tax up! So this issue is really about whether free school meals for all children in Islington schools (which is not the same as for all Islington children!) is worth putting up everyone’s council tax. As a school governor I am 100% behind free school meals for those that need them. But I am sceptical about the benefit of free school meals for all. I’m not surprised that the unions and the school meals contractors are enthusiastic: they are doing their job and protecting their members and their business. But you need to consider the wider issues.

“Many schools rely on their ‘free school meals’ count to get extra resources to support poorer pupils and to give context to their exam results. Not all schools can physically cope with feeding all their pupils at once. EGA for example relies on the fact that a certain number of girls bring in sandwiches or go out at mealtimes as the school simply does not have room for them all to eat in the hall.

“Some families actually like to provide the food their kids eat. I remember when friends of mine were worried about the quality of school meals (not in an Islington school, but it could have been) and so started making their kids healthy lunches instead.

“If there are universal free school meals, are they compulsory? And if they are not compulsory, what about the waste? My firm introduced a free lunch for staff one day a week, to encourage team spirit. At first it was great, but after a while, people started opting out and getting their own lunch anyway, because they had errands to run or a meeting to go to or whatever. Because the lunch was free, they could take it or leave it – and often left it. Lots of food was being thrown away, a terrible waste, or taken home to feed other people: not what the firm had intended. After a while the firm stopped providing a free meal for everyone, but provided a smaller free buffet for those who wanted it or needed it. Of course a school is not the same as a workplace; but it did show how even the best-intentioned schemes can go wrong.

“But most of all, I think this scheme is the worst kind of redistribution: from the poor to the rich, Robin Hood in reverse. Why should the woman works as a cleaner find her council tax going up to provide a free lunch for her employer’s children? As a former Labour party member (albeit a very long time ago) I think this is a disgraceful proposal from a Labour council group.

“Is this the right time? No. Everyone is feeling the pinch. Raising taxes in a recession sends the message that the government, whether local or national, knows better what to do with our money than we do, just when we don’t have enough money to start with. It’s crazy. The poorest households, rightly, already get benefits including free school meals. The people who suffer most when taxes rise are those in the poverty trap, who get hit by the rise but get no benefits to help. And it’s not just pensioners, but families and single people too. Islington has higher than average numbers of single people and childless households, not all of them rich ones, and this tax rise will hit them hard.

“We all talk about wanting to help local small businesses. Putting up council tax means less money in Islington shoppers’ pockets: bad news for businesses. And bad news for the services who depend on their advertising (including our local newspapers!).

“So I very much support the proposal for a council tax freeze.

“And I’m not alone. The last couple of weeks I’ve been out knocking on doors and phoning round, as part of my regular campaigning. I’ve been asking people about the council tax rise: would they prefer a freeze, or an increase to be spent on providing free school meals for all children?

“Overwhelmingly people prefer the freeze. And it’s not just the better off. To give you a flavour of the range of people supporting our position:
A foster mum on the Bemerton estate
A new mum in Barnsbury
A student and his mum near the Angel
An environmentalist in Bunhill
A classroom assistant in Holloway
A pensioner in Clerkenwell
A carer in St Peter’s ward
A mature student in Canonbury
And so it goes on.

“If you look at the people who’ve joined the Facebook group, you will see that real Islington people are backing the council tax freeze, not just party political activists.

“So please do the right thing and freeze the council tax this year.

“Apologies for the long message!

“Best wishes,

“Bridget”

It was a long message but I could have said even more. Like the two friends who’ve lost their jobs in the past few days: the last thing they need are tax rises now. Or like the families I know who will lose more in the tax rise than they will gain in school meals.

There will be friends reading this whose gut instinct is different to mine. I know that there are good people sincerely backing the Labour proposal. I also think that there is deliberate politicking from the Labour group, using this as a stick to beat the current council administration. Whatever the motive, putting up the council tax now will be hitting people when they are down – and I hope that councillors of all parties would not want to do that.

We’ll find out next week.

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Council tax: freeze, please!

Lib Dems in Islington aren’t the only ones proposing a 0% increase in response to the current financial crisis.

Haringey Lib Dems are too.

Meanwhile Islington leader James Kempton has launched a petition where people can register their support for a council tax freeze: sign up here.

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