Cllr Kevin Davis is the Leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
“There’s an election coming”. This was the view of our opposition when we announced we were freezing Council Tax this year – no addition for Adult Social Care as well. Of course our opposition get no credit for stating “the bloomin’ obvious” – there is indeed an election coming. But the reasons for doing what we have done are a bit beyond headline grabbing: we fundamentally think this is now the right thing to do.
We all know household budgets are under pressure and Council Tax has been a growing part of those budgets. In Kingston the last Lib Dem administration gave us the highest Council Tax in London, so we are very keen to give something back to residents and to help support them when other areas of their budgets are under extreme pressure. Kingston is a wealthy part of London so even I have been surprised at the sudden and rising concern that taxes have become for many people.
But there are other reasons. Despite a freeze in Council Tax we are investing more in Adult Social Care. That is against a backdrop of steps we took two years ago to change the way we work with the NHS. What we did then means we are seeing little of the delayed discharge issues over the winter months and this saves us all money.
This is also the first year in which Kingston will be become an independent Borough, free from the tyranny of revenue support where the Government does more to dictate our local tax and spending than any other aspect of things we do. This has made us look afresh at what we are doing so we are taking that opportunity to refocus the Council. Our end destination is a Council that is less paternalistic and who sees its role as engaging residents to help support themselves and their neighbours. The evidence so far is that this makes them healthier, more connected to their locality, and more engaged in the growth and development of Kingston.
We have put a lot of money into social care, parks, playgrounds, roads and pavements. But we have also reduced expenditure across the council by £54 million over the course of four years. That would be the equivalent of increasing Council Tax by 60 per cent. One resident recently asked me what the previous Lib Dem Council was doing with all this money and I have to admit to being stumped for an answer.
All of us in local government should be proud of what we have delivered in the years of austerity. Other public services could learn that less money to spend means rethinking what you do and never again believing that ‘business as usual’ is fair to those who receive our services or pay our taxes. Freezing Council tax and investing in the areas where money is most needed means everyone in Kingston wins – like my opposition telling me there is an election coming, that is stating the bleedin’ obvious..