Last night Labour councillors voted to freeze council tax for the next two years. The meeting in the town hall saw a long, well reasoned debate about how best to help local families through the economic downturn.
First, they wanted to make sure there was delivery on the manifesto promise to keep council tax rises below the level of wage inflation over the full four-year term of this council. That would give the Council scope for a small increase of up to 2% this year and next year if they had wanted to. But times have changed since we were elected in 2006. Back then, there was no recession. Now families are facing higher bills for things like food and fuel, and many people are worried about losing their jobs or having their hours – and their pay – cut back.
It’s worth remembering how the Lib Dems and Tories who ran the council until the elections in 2006 forced council tax up to record-breaking levels. In their first year, they put council tax up 23% in one go. Over their full four years, that increase soared to 40%. Their tax hikes cost the average household an extra £1000 in council tax. I believe those decisions also cost the Lib Dems and Tories the last election. Labour was determined to get back to sensible levels of council tax, and thanks to low rises over our first two years in power Lambeth today has one of the lowest council tax levels in the country.
But with the economic recession starting to bite, Labnour Councillors want to do even more to help people cope. After several hours of debate, there was agreement there should be no increase in council tax this year or next. Labour councillors were also determined to deliver that freeze without cutting the frontline services that people rely on. They’re only in a position to do this because of the steady and responsible way Labour has managed the council’s finances over the past two years and much of the credit for that goes to our finance chief Cllr Jim Dickson.
When the next elections come in May 2010, voters will face a clear choice. The Lib Dems who put council tax up 40% but wasted all the money, or Labour with low increases for two years followed by a two-year freeze to help people through the recession. That’s the difference between a Lib Dem council that’s not on your side or a Labour council that is.