Bold reform needed says council leader as Havering faces rise in council tax

Council tax is set to rise by £77.67 a year in Havering according to budget proposals published on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as the council faces sacking 400 of its staff in order to close a £28million budget gap over the next four years.

Havering Council is also dealing with “extreme demand” on its social care services that it cannot fully fund with the money offered by the government.

Speaking on Wednesday, leader Damian White said “about 80 odd percent” of the council’s spending is on social services.

He added: “It’s no surprise that local government has been under an immense amount of pressure over the last two years responding to the challenge that is COVID.

“That has meant our council has had to do some things differently and totally transform the way that we provide those services.”

Cllr White said “significant savings” have been made through “efficient use of resources,” such as the use of technology.

Benchmark council tax payers, in band D, will pay a total of £1,970.97 a year – this includes a 2.99 per cent increase in local council tax, as well as a likely increase of 8 per cent that will go to the Greater London Authority.

Chief financial officer Jane West said the 1 per cent increase in council tax that will go towards adult social care will only raise an extra £1.5million.

She added: “The government has given us additional funding for next year in the settlement announced in October or November, but they’ve only given us certainty for next year.

“They’re just not telling us what we’re getting after 2022/23… beyond that there are anxieties about what we’re going to get from the government and the overall budget position.”

West said funding has been cut 40 per cent in the past decade and council cuts made in previous years mean “all the low-hanging fruit has already gone”.

The council is now encouraging families to step in and take care of their elderly relatives where possible and local co-ordinators are being piloted to “steer people”.

Cllr White said he has been calling for reform to local government funding and the outdated council tax system at Conservative “events and dinners”.

He added: “The way the council tax base is set up is so out of date and out of kilter with reality.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate way to fund local government services. What do property values in 1991 have to do with how much council tax you pay in 2022, I don’t see the link. We do need wider, bolder reform.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter