Cllr Nick Paget-Brown is the Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council
It’s budget time at Kensington and Chelsea and although the final decision won’t be taken by the Council until March, the news is getting round that Royal Borough Council Taxpayers are likely to have their Council Tax frozen for the fifth year in a row.
Not only that, they are set to receive a one-off £100 rebate, thanks to an overachieving efficiency drive. That’s equivalent to a 9 per cent reduction at band D and 6 per cent at band G. The efficiency dividend will cost about £7.5 million.
So how is it that, three or four years into austerity, we have such a healthy surplus?
The answer is simple really. In 2010, it was plain that the public finances were in ruins. And it was just as plain that councils would have to bear a disproportionally large share of the national debt reduction programme. We faced a choice: do we salami slice away all that we have achieved in terms of excellent services through annual rounds of cuts, or do we take the harder road of structural change in the hope of larger scale savings that would better preserve those key services so vital to the quality of life here in the Royal Borough?
Because our first duty is to our residents, we opted for that harder road. As is well known by now, we have with our neighbours, Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham, pioneered the most radical service sharing arrangement in Britain. Today, the great majority of services are delivered on a bi-borough or tri-borough basis. In addition we have been transforming the way we manage our valuable property estate and improving efficiency in many other ways, trying to squeeze ever more value out of every pound spent.
As a result of all that, we find that not only are our resident opinion ratings of the Council’s performance holding up remarkably well, but we are also well ahead of our savings targets for the year.
However with austerity likely to be prolonged well beyond 2015 our one-off surplus can’t be ploughed back into services on any sustainable basis; nor, for the same reason, can it be used to cut Council Tax permanently.
In deciding what to do with it, we have taken the view that it is simply wrong to discount from our calculations those whose money this was in the first place. In short, we think the right place for it is back with our residents.
But the Council will take the final decision on 5 March.