Council budget voted through – but tax rise ‘won’t come close to filling care funding gap’

Owen Sheppard (01 March, 2017) Politics

Amendments put forward by Southwark's Lib Dems and Tory parties were voted down

14792Councillor Fiona Colley, Southwark Council's cabinet member for finance

Southwark Council’s budget for the new financial year was voted through by the borough’s councillors last week, setting out a tax rise and £25.6m of savings.

The full-council meeting on February 22 saw the approval of a voluntary 1.99 per cent tax rise, twinned with a government-enforced “social care levy” equalling a further tax rise of three per cent.

The budget was delivered by Southwark’s cabinet member Fiona Colley. In her speech to councillors from the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative parties, Cllr Colley said the voluntary increase was the “first in seven years”, and kept Southwark two percent below the London average.

She added that the total 4.99 per cent tax rise would generate £4.49m, which “would not come close to filling the gap in social care funding”. It was also noted that adult social care costs overran by £15m in the previous year, as the council struggled to manage government cuts.

There were also four amendments put forward for a vote by councillors from all three parties.

Councillors Catherine Rose and Evelyn Akoto (both Labour) focused on the Department of Education’s proposals for a new national funding formula for schools. The proposals are designed to close the gap between spending on pupils in rural areas compared to in big cities. Schools in the Bermondsey and Old Southwark constituency looked to become the worst-hit in England, with £1,051 lost per pupil.

Southwark Liberal Democrat leader, Anood Al-Samerai

Cllr Rose and Cllr Akoto amendment for the council to “work with schools in Southwark to protect school improvement… to encourage school-to-school support and increase collaboration with in the Southwark family of schools” was passed unanimously.

The Lib Dems put forward two amendments which were voted down with ratios of over four to one by Labour councillors. The first, by councillors Rosie Shimmell and Ben Johnson, took up five points:

  • It urged the council to scrap the 1.99 per cent voluntary tax rise
  • Criticised  Labour’s “lack of consultation” with local NHS organisations, who the council hopes will take over responsibilities for some adult social care services, currently worth £1.8m.
  • Called for greater consultation with local residents by planning officers when dealing with big redevelopment schemes
  • Suggested scrapping the £16 charge for bulky waste collection
  • Consult more with residents affected by cuts to social care services

The second Lib Dem amendment, by councillors Anood Al-Samerai and James Okosun, asked the council to reduce some councillors’ “special responsibilities allowances” by 4.99 per cent – in line with the tax increase – and use the money to help resettle Syrian refugees.

Southwark’s two Conservative councillors, Michael Mitchell and Jane Lyons from the Village ward in Dulwich, also had their amendment voted down by Labour and Lib Dems. Their amendment suggested the council cease publishing Southwark Life magazine; save £192,000 by sharing back-office staff with other councils; spend £50,000 of tackling graffiti; save £100,000 by scrapping subsidies for employees’ trade union activities; spend £50,000 on road sweeping and litter picking; and another £100,000 for maintaining highways.

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