Very proud to report that my local council, Hammersmith and Fulham, is cutting the Council Tax by 3% in the next financial year. That will be the third year in a row to have achieved a cut of that level. This achievement is all the more impressive given that it has been combined with paying off £20 million of debt, coping with a tight Revenue Support Grant settlement from a hostile Labour Government and achieving an improvement in services as evidenced from resident satisfaction surveys and the highest possible rating of four stars from the Audit Commission.
How have we done it?
- Reducing our headcount and agency bills – Staff numbers have fallen by 566 through efficiency measures and agency spend has tumbled from £24 million in 2005/6 to £21 million in 2007/8
- Cutting our debt by nearly £20 million, producing annual savings in borrowing costs of around £1.7 million a year
- Market testing £90 million of services, producing savings of £1.3 million in 2008/9.
- Promoting smarter working – cutting accommodation costs is saving £1.1 million
- Improving customer access while saving money – for example by allowing people to renew parking permits online. Overall the council’s award winning Customer Access Strategy has delivered £4 million in savings while substantially improving our service to customers.
Council leader Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh says:
“At a time of great financial uncertainty for many
families we are once again taking the lead in Britain by cutting
council tax for the third year in a row. It essential councils like
ours do all we can to help hard working families struggling to make
ends meet, whilst ensuring we still deliver quality services.
“At the same time we are providing quality local
services that people expect, spending money on things that matter. We
are improving schools, cutting crime and making our parks better. We
are retaining weekly bin collections while making it easier for
residents by ensuring that refuse, recycling and street cleaning happen
on the same day.
“This is a commonsense council that is leading the way in
delivering quality services at the lowest possible cost. Our tax cuts
are affordable and do not increase our debt burden. Instead we are
cutting debt. I invite politicians of all parties to come to
Hammersmith to see how it is done.”
Shadow Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:
"On a day when the government is raising taxation, putting the country deep into debt and placing burdens on ordinary working families, Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives are reducing Council tax bills for the third year running. This demonstrates that for the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham tax cuts aren’t just for Christmas, but are part of a long term plan to make life easier for the people we serve."
I do hope that other Council leaders will take the invitation to visit Hammersmith as serious and sensible rather than just rhetorical boasting. Often Council leaders say it is "not possible" for them to reduce Council Tax because their circumstances are different to those in Hammersmith. Maybe. Perhaps for instance they didn’t have as much fat to cut in the first place as we did. On the other hand maybe at least some of the savings we are achieving they could copy. They shouldn’t be too proud. After all we have achieved a large part of our success by copying Wandsworth.
One other point. These success stories in places like Wandsworth and Hammersmith and Fulham have an impact on the tax cutting credibility of the Party nationally, as Philip Johnston argued in the Telegraph yesterday.