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.