Basildon council tax frozen but rents to rise by 3.1%

Council tax will be frozen in Basildon, but earlier promises of a cut have been abandoned in favour of anti-drug dealing initiatives.

At a budget meeting last night (February 24), members of Basildon Borough Council dropped earlier pledges to cut council tax, promising instead to use the money to fund a team of community safety wardens to disrupt drug dealing and antisocial behaviour.

The rate of council tax in Basildon will remain at £278.91 for Band D properties this year.

Additionally, council house rent will rise by 3.1 per cent, although this is reduced from the previously proposed 4.1 per cent in response to the ongoing cost of living crisis.

But the plans drew criticism from opposition members, claiming they went back on election pledges from Conservative councillors to cut tax made last year.

Proposing the budget, Councillor Stuart Sullivan (Con, Billericay East Ward) said a cut would have been possible, but the council had decided instead to invest in tackling the issue of drug dealing in the borough.

He told the meeting: “It was of course an ambition of the administration to not just freeze council tax but to cut it if possible.

“This in fact could have been achieved but the administration decided instead to listen to the concerns of residents regarding the blight of drug dealing and antisocial behaviour in their communities and will therefore be allocating £400,000 from the revenue budget for the purpose of employing community safety wardens to disrupt drug dealing activity and antisocial behaviour in our streets and estates.”

Labour group leader Councillor Jack Ferguson (Pitsea North-West) said it was “a budget of broken promises and reused announcements.”

He said: “To be tough on crime, you’ve also got to be tough on the causes of crime, you’ve got to address the underlying causes behind it and to do that we need to look at the importance of early intervention.”

Cllr Ferguson also said the administration had not said how much it will cost the council to pull its local plan.

Defending the increase in council house rents, Conservative councillors said the money generated would go towards improving estates and “dovetails” the Safe and Sound estate renewal programme, the first tranche of funding for which was also set out in the budget.

Cllr Sullivan said: “A rent increase is always to be regretted, but this year was not some gratuitous increase because we are allowed to.

“Our tenants will be seeing a £40m four-year investment programme in their estates, which will also have general fund contributions where appropriate to significantly improve the built environment in which they live, allied to improvements to the housing to make them better insulated and energy efficient.”

The 3.1 per cent increase is equivalent to the Consumer Price Index measure of inflation.

Other key pledges in the budget included freezing car parking charges and spending £2.7m to increase parking in high streets and on estates, £54m on 210 new council homes and £40m towards regenerating existing estates.

Continuing to fund the Laindon Community Centre to completion and putting £360,000 towards upgrading other community halls were also proposed.

Labour and independent amendments proposing free swimming lessons for Basildon children during school holidays, costing £30,000, raising the age of eligibility for council tax exemptions for care leavers from 21 to 25, costing £5,000, and an extra £40,000 spent on Christmas lights in the borough’s smaller towns were voted down.

In addition to the rise at borough-level, there will also be tax increases from Essex County Council, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, and local town and parish councils.

Many households will also receive a nationwide £150 rebate from national government in response to the rising cost of living.

Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter