A year ago Greenwich Conservatives put forward a fully costed proposal to lift up to 15,000 low-income residents out of Council Tax altogether, by increasing the support given to qualifying working-age residents in the Council Tax Support scheme to up to 100% of their bills, up from the current 85%.
Labour councillors voted this proposal down – as with most of our good ideas – and tride to claim they were intending to implement the change anyway, promising that it would come into effect in April 2019. I blogged on the dubious basis for this claim at the time here.
Either way, the promise was made. During that budget-setting meeting, then Council Leader Denise Hyland told me:
“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.”
Cabinet instead recommending no change
But fast forward a year, and at their Cabinet meeting tonight, Labour councillors are set to make a recommendation to next week’s Full Council meeting that no change is made to Council Tax Support for the coming year.
On the agenda is the annual Council Tax Base report on arrangements post April 2019, brought forward by officers under the direction of new Labour Leader Danny Thorpe and Cabinet Member for Finance Christine Grice, whigh seeks agreement from Cabinet and Council next week “that no changes will be made to the Local Council Tax Support Scheme adopted by Council on 30 January 2013 and the Scheme will be continued for 2019/20”.
This is a clear breach by the new Labour leadership of Cllr Hyland’s promise that our proposal will be implemented in April 2019.
Will it even happen at all?
The new report also appears to cast doubt whether this promise of introducing 100% support for working-age recipients, in line with our proposal last February, will be met at all. The report instead merely states that “the council is working with authorities and partners to understand” ‘client profile changes’ resulting from the roll-out of Universal Credit, after which “an updated scheme, one that is able to target the most vulnerable, can be drafted and consulted upon during 2019”.
The more I think about this, the angrier it makes me. After they voted down our idea – into which went a lot of work – last February, we received a clear promise from Labour councillors that they would implement the change anyway this April. Nothing has changed since (and were they really hoping we would forget?)
The change that we have proposed isn’t cheap, but it is the right thing to do, and we have shown how it could be paid for without affecting frontline services.
Ultimately, as with so many things, this is all about the Council’s priorities in how it uses the powers and resources it has. It seems the new Labour Leadership is more interested in protecting its pointless fortnightly magazine than helping residents on low incomes.
The third in a series…
While we have to put up with their moralising and focus on national party politics, time and time again, it is Opposition Conservative Councillors who have had to shame Greenwich Labour into doing the right thing when it comes to protecting the vulnerable using the powers they actually have locally.
I am proud that the Conservative Group previously secured the Living Wage Incentive Scheme, and also to have subsequently forced Labour into exempting young care-lavers from Council Tax. Campaigning to improve the way that the council supports vulnerable residents was also one of the core themes of our manifesto for a strong opposition during our successful local election campaign last May – and it’s the one that as Leader of the Opposition I am most passionate about.
That means we will continue to make the case for this even more beneficial change to Council Tax Support – until Labour meets their promise to implement it.
You can see the agenda for next week’s Full Council meeting, where the Cabinet’s recommendation on this be voted on, here.