Conservative-run Redbridge Council is to freeze Council Tax. Congratulations to the Council leader, Cllr Keith Prince, an old friend, on this achievement. I will email Cllr Prince to ask him to explain how it was achieved. Over a three year period efficiency savings of nearly £22 million have been found.
Savings include £12,000 by reducing the delivery of mail to councillors home to twice per week – sounds reasonable given that urgent matters tend to come by email. £300,000 is being saved on agency workers. There are some modest reductions in services – closing public lavatories and instead having a community lavatories scheme, making the archives service by appointment only. But the really important front line services have been protected.
While a couple of Conservative councils are London are increasing the Council Tax these are very modest increases. In Croydon the Council Tax will go up by just 0.8% – the lowest rise in the borough's history. Similarly Bromley Council is putting up the Council Tax by 0.94%. Both councils point to tight Governmentgrant settlements as the reason why the substantial savings they have achieved will still leave residents with higher bills. But given the reductions in Merton, Havering and Hammersmith and Fulham I would hope that the average Council Tax in London Conservative councils will be lower this year than last year. Of course we already know that the Mayor's precept is being frozen.
I know some people will say that this just because elections are coming up. But the last time we had elections in 2006 this wasn't the case. At that time the inflation rate was lower than it is now. I think councillors are aware that freezing or even reducing the Council Tax is possible. So are those residents fed up with the size of the bills they are expected to pay. But how has the change in expectations come about? One person who I think has had more than a little to do with it is Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh the leader of my own council of Hammersmith and Fulham. In achieving3% annual reductions in Council Tax over four consecutive years while improving services he has set an example which is finally being taken up elsewhere.