Last night Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh presented his final budget as leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
Cllr Greenhalgh said:
Tonight’s budget council meeting finds us knee deep in austerity and people are hurting. It also marks the end of a six year road for me as council leader. I am proud to go out as I came in: Cutting council tax without cutting services. Back in 2006, after two decades in opposition, we won a strong mandate for positive change. We gained over 50% of the popular vote and became the first majority Conservative administration since 1968. Despite many neighbouring Conservative Councils falling back to Labour, we were re-elected again resoundingly in 2010.
In six years we have transformed a high cost and ineffective Labour council into a flagship Conservative one. A council that delivers high quality services at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. Even though this was considered to be a flagship Labour council…..universal services such as libraries, street cleaning and parks were all poorly managed. The council was knee deep in debt and committed to direct labour whatever the cost or quality of the service.
The overall resident satisfaction score for council services was average for London and 203rd in the country. H&F’s value for money rating was shockingly bad: 363rd out of 387 local authorities. It was this Conservative administration that took control of the council’s finances and got a grip after 20 years of Labour mismanagement and waste. After only two years of Conservative control, H&F’s score for overall council satisfaction score rose to 9th and 10th for value for money in the country.
And it was because we controlled council expenditure that we were able to cut council tax consistently. Even though the sun was not really shining, we fixed the roof….and a lot of other things as well. Council services have improved significantly at the same time as cutting council tax. It was us – not Ken Livingstone – that introduced and funded the round-the-clock beat policing in our three town centres. Crime has been falling consistently year after year.
Last summer we were surrounded by a ring of riots in Ealing, Brent, Notting Hill and Clapham. Yet H&F clocked up only 10 offences whereas Ealing suffered 300 crimes. And for that I pay tribute to the Borough Commander and the local police for keeping our streets safe Anti-social behaviour on our council estates is being challenged. We have taken active steps to evict the worst tenants and roll out CCTV on our estates. The introduction of competitive tendering has reduced the council’s expenditure while improving services.
Our streets are now consistently amongst the cleanest in London and we can take pride in the state of our parks. We introduced the popular same day refuse and recycling collection service and ensured that the refuse is collected before the streets are cleaned. 98% of streets are now maintained to Tidy Britain standards which is amongst the best scores in London. Not a single park had a green flag when we took control of this council and now seven have green flags…..with more to come. We are keeping all our libraries open with creative solutions that involve cutting overhead and using volunteers.
And we continue to protect the vulnerable with a wider safety net than the vast majority of councils in London. Our voluntary sector grant allocation is the sixth most generous in London in cash terms – over £4 million. This has all been achieved despite Labour attacks every step of the way and promises that bear no relation to the reality of Labour’s record in power. Well tonight is the moment when we give something back to every council taxpayer in this borough.
I am delighted to announce that we will be cutting council tax in Hammersmith & Fulham to the level that it was a decade ago. And we are no longer alone. A small band of other Conservative-run councils are lowering their council tax this year: Windsor & Maidenhead, Brentwood, South Holland, South Oxfordshire, Stratford-on-Avon, Tendring and of course, Boris’s GLA. We are proud that we are now part of the West London low tax zone where four Conservative-run councils are setting the lowest council tax levels not just in the capital but in the country.
I am so delighted…and touched to see that the Labour opposition leader rejects tax-and-spend policies in the Guardian! I think it’s fair to say that we are all council tax cutters in Hammersmith & Fulham now! And I admire the…the sheer ambition of this Labour opposition in pledging to cut council tax even more than we are doing. I am struggling to see how they might achieve this. Certainly not by switching off the lights of the town hall extension, sacking one official or cracking down on consultancy spend.
And no- one can pretend that all this has been possible because we are hiking the council’s fees & charges. If we exclude parking revenue, the projected income from fees & charges is £2 million less than the actual income received in the last year that Labour set the budget. Once inflation is taken into account this represents an £8 million drop in income. Admittedly parking income has gone up because of a modest increase in enforcement income but it is still £2 million less in real terms than the £23.6 million income collected in the last year of a Labour council.
I also remind my fellow councillors that today this Conservative council employs 2000 less full time equivalent staff, spends £10 million less on agency staff and has a far lower spend on consultants which was not even monitored at the time that we took over. And we are paying down council debt in H&F to its lowest level in more than a quarter of a century. 26 YEARS AGO was the last time that the council debt was below £100 million. This means that we can put £7 million back in to delivering frontline council services rather than servicing council debt.
We want to be remembered for something that can be captured by 3 simple words: Release, reduce and reform: These are the 3 Rs of common sense local government. We are releasing underutilised assets and cutting the size of the council’s municipal footprint by a third. We are selling off Fulham Town Hall for over £10 million and thereby saving £500,000 a year in running costs. We are disposing of Palingswick House, Sands End Community Centre, Bulwer Street and the Irish Centre back to the Irish.
We are reducing overhead by combining services with Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster. We have cut the size of the senior management team by a third in the last year alone. Finally we are reforming the way that local services are delivered as part of the government’s area and neighbourhood community budget programme. The result of that hard work is that the course is set and we can now cut council tax bills for the 5th year out of six.
Council tax bills will drop by 3.75% the biggest council tax cut in the whole country. Our bills were the 11th highest in London when we took over in 2006 but now we can boast that we have the THIRD LOWEST IN BRITAIN. The course is set and the vision is clear. Hammersmith & Fulham Council is and will remain a l
ow tax council and this Borough of Opportunity is poised for major economic and housing growth. And our local schools are the engines of social mobility. I am proud that H&F is the top borough in the UK for the number of pupils going to top universities from our state schools.
Children from poorer backgrounds are now more likely to succeed here than virtually anywhere else in the UK. We are also the `most free-school friendly council in the country with two free schools opening this year and more in the pipeline. The result? Well…the number of local parents choosing H&F schools has doubled since we took control! For us schools of choice is more than just a slogan. In this borough of contrasts the aspiration of home ownership must belong to the many not the few.
And we have delivered a ladder of housing opportunity for our residents to own a stake in their own home. We launched H&F Home Buy which has helped 600 people on to the housing ladder who could not afford to buy on the market. And it is this Conservative council that has the drive and ambition to regenerate our most deprived areas. This is a Conservative Council that is cutting tax consistently, paying down debt whilst improving the council services that matter most to our residents. I am so proud to have led this council for the last 6 years and I am proud of this budget which I commend to you all and ask for your wholehearted support.