Opposition councillors’ proposals to reduce council tax in Brent were rejected on the basis it would “put a strain” on future finances.
Labour-run Brent Council voted against separate budget suggestions put forward by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at a full council meeting yesterday (Monday, February 22).
These included a reduction in the council tax increase from 4.99 per cent to 2.99 per cent and stopping short of introducing a London Living Wage (LLW) to all council employees and contractors.
Cllr Suresh Kansagra (Con, Kenton), the leader of the Conservative Group in Brent, said it was unfair to expect residents to face another year of a maximum council tax increase.
To bridge the funding gap a lower tax rate would bring, Conservatives proposed cutting the LLW scheme by backing the National Minimum Wage which, Cllr Kansagra noted, has recently increased.
He also suggested £1.6 million of landlord incentives, which encourage property owners to rent to Brent residents who have been evicted, should be scrapped on the basis they should not benefit from private investments.
“There are many people who work hard, pay their bills and taxes but have to live outside Brent because they cannot afford to live in the borough,” a Conservative amendment stated.
“We feel that it is wrong to subsidise private landlords in this way, which also acts as an incentive to keep rents artificially high.”
Cllr Anton Georgiou (Lib Dem, Alperton), the sole Liberal Democrat representative on the council, also proposed a lower council tax burden, arguing pressures should be managed by using specific reserves set aside for this purpose.
He suggested £5 million worth of back-up cash should be used to cover plans to introduce LLW, the purchase of more personal protective equipment, schemes aimed at addressing homelessness, and any “allowance for uncertainty”.
This money, he explained, would cover the council tax decrease, and support initiatives such as youth activity grants, improved cycle routes and schemes to tackle littering and rubbish dumping.
Cllr Georgiou said: “Our most vulnerable residents must continue to get the support they need and deserve.
“I am proud to make these proposals that take into account both the severe financial burden our local residents are facing right now but also seek to address some of the most pressing needs to improve our community.”
However, Labour councillors said it was unrealistic to not raise council tax by the maximum amount – 4.99 per cent with three per cent ringfenced for adult social care – as it was the main source of funding for services.
They also noted the advice of the council’s officers who explained that, while the Conservative and Liberal Democrat proposals were “legal and balanced”, they represented risk over the next two financial years.
And Cllr Muhammed Butt (Lab, Tokyngton), leader of Brent Council, repeated his view that it had been left with little choice following years of reduced funding from central government.