- Fourth rise in four years
- LibDems are a high tax, low spend Council
- No ideas, no vision from LibDems
- Will take a person on average salary a MONTH to earn enough to pay their Council Tax
Responding to the news here's what the Conservative Finance spokesperson Councillor Aphra Brandreth had to say.
Thank you Mr Mayor. I would like to start by thanking officers for their help and support, and in particular thanks to Fenella Merry and her team for their time to discuss the detail of this budget.
It is great to be back in the Council Chamber after what has been an unprecedented two years where the challenges of Covid have meant huge personal impacts for so many.
As you know, this meeting marks the end of 4 years of Lib Dem administration, 4 years in which every year charges have gone up, 4 years in which every year council tax has gone up.
And in every year there has been an underspend of millions of pounds…
In 2019 an underspend of £3.6m
In 2020 an underspend of £797k
In 2021 an underspend of £6.4m
And in 2022, yes you’ve guessed it, an underspend of £4.8m.
Every year this administration have taken more money from our residents than they need. Every year.
And now here we are in 2022, following two unbelievably challenging years for many people, for many families, where everyone is struggling with the rising cost of living. What does this council do with their year, on year, on year, on year underspend? They put up council tax.
In Richmond Brough Band D council tax is now proposed to be pushed above £2k per year.
Just think about that.
With an average weekly pay in the UK of £550, I’m sure you can all do the maths, in this council, under this Lib Dem administration, someone on average weekly earnings now has to work for well over a month just to pay their council tax alone.
Council tax up every year, and an underspend every year.
What we have is a high tax, low spend council, the worst of both worlds.
You might think that our residents are getting more for their money, that they are more satisfied. Yet, from the very first year that this administration came in satisfaction in the council dropped when the Richmond Residents' Survey showed that the percentage of residents satisfied with the way Richmond Council runs things and the percentage who agree the council provides value for money both falling when the Lib Dem administration took over the council.
This administration talks of Fairer Finances, but they are all talk, and when the moment arrives where the cost of living is rising and our residents need help – what do they do? Push up council tax.
This administration talks about responsible stewardship of Council finances – responsible stewardship doesn’t just mean balancing the books by constantly putting up taxes, it means continuous review of spending to make sure we are getting the best value for taxpayers’ money. It means making sure that we are running council finances efficiently –
Under the Conservative administration we looked for innovative solutions, that made a real difference. £10m of efficiency savings from the Shared Services Agreement which the Conservative Administration initiated. Combining children’s services with Kingston council another Conservative idea saving our residents significant money.
Where are the savings? Read the report and it will tell you there are Efficiency savings of £5.1m
But look a little bit deeper and these so called efficiency savings include £110,000 unused levies inflation contingency, they include an unused contingency allocation of £1.5m, and they include increased parking fees of £240,000.
No ideas, no vision just higher taxes.
Yet go to our neighbouring borough of Wandsworth they’ve managed to not just freeze council tax but to lower it. It can be done, and it is being done by our neighbouring Conservative borough.
And if we could easily get across Hammersmith Bridge, which by the way this administration has removed the funding it had put aside for the Ferry with no other plans to date to support residents and businesses impacted by the bridge closure (of course not because they can’t come up with any ideas for themselves).
Just look across the river, even there you will find a council that has frozen council tax this year.
When those around them are freezing or lowering council tax, the Lib Dems have no ideas, no vision, just a multi-million pound underspend and pushing up council tax yet again.
And what of the reserves, those savings for a rainy day? In fact, reserves continue to remain solid. With total reserves of £84m, including the General Reserve at £10.75m which is within the agreed range of 5 – 10% of Budget Requirement – the council fixed the roof whilst the sun shone. But now as the clouds gather with inflation and fuel costs rising, after two difficult years, they can’t hear the thunder rumbling because the Lib Dems don’t listen.
When I go out knocking on doors, people talk about the challenges they are facing, their concerns with rising costs especially fuel costs. Can this council help them? Can this council keep costs down? It could but it isn’t listening.
One of the many impacts of Covid has been a change to how people travel. During the past two years there have of course been lock downs, and people have been encouraged to work from home where they can, indeed this Council anticipates that its own staff will continue with some form of hybrid working into the future. The nature of travel has changed. It has impacted the council because income from parking has fallen, that matters to a council where parking contributes 5% of total income. However, as we know thanks to the substantial grants from this Conservative Government, it is anticipated that the impact of covid on the budget over the last two years is likely to be kept down to net costs of just £798,000.
But looking forwards the budget accounts for a continuing impact of covid on parking income estimating that next year it will be reduced by £1m. I wonder then, what plans this administration has made over the past two years to address this shortfall in income?
We understand this administration’s desire to promote more active forms of travel, indeed they state that they are committed to promoting sustainable travel and decreasing car use.
But just like they have no plan for addressing transport across the borough, just as they rejected our calls for a borough wide transport strategy, it is clear that this Lib Dem administration has no plan, no ideas, no solutions other than to just increase taxes. Even when they can see an issue coming at them, like the two years they have had to prepare and plan for the upcoming £1m loss of parking income next year - their only idea is to plug the gap with higher taxes.
And let’s not forget that both last year and this year the council has made substantial savings by their reduced contributions to TfL towards the cost of concessionary fares as a result of lower passenger journeys on public transport resulting from Covid 19, last year a fall of £1.5m, and this year the Council’s contribution is expected to drop even further by £2.7m – that is a saving equivalent to a 2% increase in council tax.
Whilst this Lib Dem administration pocket that saving, the Mayor has put up his share of council tax to make up for the short fall. Meaning our residents are charged twice for journeys they aren’t even making.
We have a council that doesn’t listen, we have a council that keeps things hidden, like the multi million-pound expected cost of the development of Twickenham riverside conveniently out of the budget so residents have no idea how much of their taxes will be funding a development that could be cost neutral.
This budget is not fairer finances, it is not financial stewardship, it is just higher taxes and so I will not be supporting this budget recommendation.
The total council tax at Band D including the GLA element would be increased to £2,021.53, an increase of 3.21%.
That the Council be RECOMMENDED to agree that the Band D level of Council Tax for 2022/23, including the Council’s increase in Council Tax of 0.94%, the Social Care Precept of 1% and the GLA increase of 8.78%, be set at £2,021.53, an overall increase of 3.21% on 2021/22. The levels of Council Tax for all property bands are shown at Appendix A.
 are made up of reductions generated from procurement and contract savings, holding down inflation on supplies budgets and release of unallocated contingency