At last night’s Greenwich Council meeting, Labour councillors voted against a Conservative proposal to increase Council Tax Support for working age residents from 85% to 100% of bills.
The change would effectively lift more than 15,000 Greenwich residents on the lowest incomes out of Council Tax altogether – at a cost of £800,000 a year, which could be paid for by scrapping just some of the £1.6 million of council waste we have identified.
Defending their opposition to this aspect of our Budget proposal in the debate, Labour council leader Denise Hyland made the surprising claim that the council had already agreed to do this, in response to the Fairness Commission’s report last year. To be exact, she said…
“The Fairness Commission has made a recommendation for that, and that is for an introduction in April 2019. So it’s already under way with the working party for social mobility – it’s already a recommendation that has been accepted.”
This claim was news to me – and indeed it came as news to everybody, because it simply is not the case.
Looking through the relevant Cabinet papers, it’s true that in July 2017 Cabinet agreed the Fairness Commission’s 61 recommendations, and delegated these to a council officer working group “for the purposes of creating an action plan, and implementing the recommendations”.
But – and it’s a big but – here, from the Cabinet Paper’s appendix, is the specific recommendation that was actually agreed by the Cabinet, and which Cllr Hyland cited to claim that the Council was already implementing the Conservative Group’s proposal of lifting all 15,000+ working age residents out of Council Tax…
So the Cabinet’s decision was actually to agree to lift residents in receipt of disability benefits out of Council Tax (not all 15,000+ working age recipients as the Conservative Group proposed last night). This is welcome, but not nearly enough.
What’s more, there is no ‘April 2019’ timeline attached in the Cabinet Paper for this increase to 100% support for this more limited group of disability benefit recipients, and indeed I am told that no timeline for this more limited change has actually been agreed.
In fact, despite having the ideal opportunity to announce this more limited change just five weeks ago, the Cabinet did not do so, and instead agreed no changes to or future consultation on the Council Tax Support scheme at all.
So despite what Councillor Hyland tried to claim last night – Labour’s more limited future plans for Council Tax Support do not go nearly as far as the Conservative proposal that Labour councillors voted against last night. I hope they will reconsider their position.
The Conservative Group will keep pressing for this change
Cllr Hyland went further and attacked me personally during the debate, asking “how dare” I propose increasing support for the vulnerable. As I said to her in response – I will make no apology for the fact that it is the Opposition Conservative Group that has consistently brought ideas to the Council Chamber for supporting the vulnerable in our borough.
We did this when the Conservative Group proposed the Living Wage Incentive Scheme – which Labour councillors hastily implemented before our proposal came to the vote, and then unconvincingly tried to claim as their own. The successful scheme has since seen more than 100 employers sign up and at least 120 low-income residents receive a pay rise.
We did this by spending months campaigning for a Council Tax exemption for care leavers – a Conservative proposal that Labour councillors voted against in February 2017 – and which Labour eventually agreed to implement anyway. The exemption comes into force next month and will benefit young people leaving care up to the age of 25.
And we will continue to do so in the case of our Council Tax Support proposal to lift 15,000 working age residents out of Council Tax altogether. 67 councils still offer 100% support, including other London Boroughs. They’ve found a way, and so have we in our proposal.
It is a simple matter of priorities – and yet again, it is falling to Opposition Conservative councillors to have to embarrass Labour-run Greenwich Council into doing more to support the vulnerable…
You can watch my exchanges with Labour Leader Denise Hyland here.