|Ealing Council tax to rise by 4.9 per cent|
Lowest increase in 7 years but debt continues to grow
Next year's council tax rise of 4.9% is set to be the lowest for seven years in Ealing. It will mean that the rate for a band D property will be £1,250.62.
The council's full budget of £392m and the new tax rate was agreed by the full council on Tuesday 8th March which recommended a small decrease from the original proposal. It will take effect from 1st April.
This year's budget has increased education spending by 7% and there is an extra £4.9 million for social services. There is a £110 million capital spending budget which includes new school buildings and the facilities for the new telephone contact centre which is part of the Response programme. Response itself is expected to provide £1 million of efficiency savings during the financial year. Reserves were also topped up by £1 million. An extra £250,000 was given to improve street lighting.
Cllr John Cudmore, leader of the council, said, �This is a good budget for Ealing residents, delivering big increases in spending to our schools, social services, street lighting and highways. We made a decision to prioritise these and other key areas. Where we had to make savings, we ensured that we minimised the effects on front line services."
The Conservatives are disputing that the Council should take credit for a relatively low increase pointing out that it is still the second highest rise in London and was kept low by Government threats of capping. They say that in the past year alone Ealing Council has increased its borrowing by £49 million and is proposing to borrow another £61 million this year. Total outstanding loan debt as at 31 March 2005 is £345 million.
They also dismiss claims about increased spending in education and social services saying that these are mandated by central government. They say that the increase in street lighting spending should be seen in the context of a 17% decrease in the Environmental Services budget, a reduction of £1.4 million. Active Ealing and the Parks and Countryside Services budget are already seeing significant decreases.
The council, at the 8th March meeting, also outlined its projected budgets for the following two years. The projections envisage that Ealing will keep council tax rises under 5% in 2006 and 2007, in line with the government's advice to local authorities. The budget report expects year on year efficiency savings from the response programme: in total £16m over the next three years although opposition parties are not convinced that these savings will materialise.
Cllr Cudmore added: �Significantly, this budget is delivering efficiency savings as a direct result of response. This was a key reason to embark on the programme, because at the same time as improving services we knew that it would begin to pay for itself. This budget and our future projections endorse our commitment to the response programme.�
Conservative Finance Spokesman, Cllr Barbara Yerolemou said that the budget cuts and tax hikes were going to pay for Labour’s Response Programme, and mismanagement in Social Services. She said, "Once again Ealing tax-payers have suffered a higher tax rise than almost any other London borough, and again the Council is borrowing huge amounts of money to keep funding Response. The debt situation is particularly worrying as it guarantees further tax hikes in the future. John Cudmore should not be boasting about the poor legacy he is bequeathing to the ratepayers of Ealing.”
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March 9, 2005