Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
In the last few weeks, the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has focussed its campaigning efforts on the London Borough of Havering after a number of residents contacted us about a proposed maximum increase in council tax. It’s not hard to see why they’re up in arms about this. Havering currently has the fourth-highest council tax bills of all London Boroughs, only superseded by Richmond upon Thames, Harrow, and Kingston upon Thames.
Diving further into the issue, data reveals that since the year 2000, Havering residents have seen a 122 per cent cash terms increase in their rates. Previous research compiled by the TPA also shows that between 1997 and 2017 the local authority had the fifth-highest real terms tax increase out of London boroughs at 65.7 per cent. Leaving aside the government’s £150 council tax rebate, Havering will see a Band D bill climb to £1,950. The council tax rebate will indeed be a huge respite to many households but at least a third of it will be wiped out by the planned three per cent rise.
Yet again it calls into question why a local authority like Havering isn’t making sensible and simple savings that are plain for all to see. For example, the council leader has recently come under fire for the creation of two additional cabinet posts at a cost of £58,712 in special responsibility allowances (SRAs) to the taxpayer. Delving further into SRAs it soon becomes even clearer that cost-cutting measures can be introduced.
Every single one of the 25 Conservative council members receives a special responsibility allowance which totals nearly £438,000 a year. Compare this to neighbouring councils Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and Bexley where this is not the case with the majority party. I don’t think it’s unfair to describe these allowances as overly-generous and also to question whether the council needs 25 special responsibility positions in the first place? This actually rises to 28 if you count a further three that are awarded to members of a local residents group.
It’s also worth noting that TPA figures from 2019 reveal that neighbouring councils Bexley and Redbridge had a noticeably lower average cost per councillor than Havering. Similarly, the highest cost of an SRA at Havering in 2018-19 was £41,719, the tenth highest of London Boroughs. Contrast that with Bexley and Redbridge whose highest SRA was £26,263 and £32,000 respectively.
Perhaps no surprise then that opposition groups in Havering have proposed an alternative budget that will cut allowances by almost a quarter of a million pounds. One can, of course, argue that these savings don’t translate to a noticeable decrease in council tax bills for local residents. But once again it clearly shows in just one area of council expenditure that sensible savings can be made – savings that won’t lead to cuts in frontline services.
Some will argue that being a councillor is a job and they are entitled to decent remuneration. I disagree, after all, they’re called allowances, not salaries. Indeed some councillors waive their allowances or donate them to charity. Surely a sense of public duty and doing the best for your community outweighs a cut to special responsibility allowances?
It’s not just councillor remuneration where savings can be made in Havering either. Looking at executive pay, it’s obvious this is another area ripe for cuts. According to the statement of accounts for 2019-20, council bosses received total remuneration of £1.255 million. The latest draft accounts for 2020-21 shows this has risen to £1.386 million. That’s a rise of £131,000 in exec pay during the pandemic! In the last two years, the chief executive of Havering council has enjoyed average renumeration in excess of £217,000.
How can it be fair that local residents will see their council tax bills increase yet councillors’ allowances and executive remuneration have both increased? This is just scraping the surface; it seems very likely there are more areas where savings can be made without affecting frontline services. That’s why the TPA is urging Havering council to scrap the planned three per cent rise, go back to the drawing board, and make sure residents get real value for money from their council tax.