Fourth Year Freeze For Council Tax

"a shoddy deal... done with no principles"

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Residents of Hounslow will be left with more money in their pocket after the council tax was frozen for the fourth year running last night (Tuesday 2 March 2010).

Councillors set a budget for 2010/11 which will include an extra £2.3 million investment in children’s services, an additional £1 million in highways maintenance, and more money for voluntary and community groups.

Leader of the council, Cllr Peter Thompson, said:

“This budget means we are one of very few authorities in the country that have been able to freeze council tax for so long.

“We have fallen from having the fifth highest level of council tax in London, to fifteenth, thanks to sound leadership and strong financial controls.

“By reducing bureaucracy and improving efficiency we’ve been able to make sure we don’t add to the burden of hard working residents in the difficult economic climate.

“At the same time we’ve invested more than ever in the vital work of our children’s services department; we’re putting more money into highway maintenance because we aren’t prepared to wait for the PFI money to kick in; and we will continue our investment in the areas local people tell us are important to them.”

Cllr Phil Andrews said:“We want to put local people at the heart of what we’re doing, so extra investment in community groups and the voluntary sector is welcome.I hope local people see that this budget shows we are committed to working hard to keep providing the excellent services they want, without penalising them with unnecessary tax rises.”

Hounslow Labour councillors condemned the deal that saw the Conservative/ICG budget passed at a stormy council meeting on Tuesday.

The budget proposed by the Conservatives was originally voted down. After a 20 minute break, it emerged that £250,000 was to be made available for unspecified 'community uses'. The ICG leadership then supported the budget.

Labour leader Jagdish Sharma lead the condemnation. "This was a shoddy deal done by two parties with no principles whatsoever. They couldn't tell us where the money would come from or what it was going to be spent on. It's a shocking waste of council tax payers money".

Labour deputy leader Cllr Ruth Cadbury added "It just proves that the Conservatives and the ICG are happy to waste residents' money in order to please themselves. If this money was available, why isn't it being spent on proper public services? They are wasting residents' money while services get worse".

Earlier in the meeting Labour councillors successfully voted against Liberal Democrat proposals to increase council tax. "This isn't the time to burden residents with more tax - the Liberal Democrats are showing just how out of touch they are with the concerns of ordinary people" said Ruth Cadbury.

A Lib Dem proposal for the long-term restoration of Gunnersbury Park and its Mansions was rejected at the Council's Budget setting meeting on Tuesday.  The Lib Dems proposal was backed an eleven page report setting out how the money could be raised.  The Lib Dems call for investment to restore the Cranford Agreement through a parliamentary bill was also rejected.  The agreement was reached in the 1950s to protect residents in Cranford from excessive noise.  The Lib Dems say that by scrapping the Cranford Agreement the Labour Government betrayed undertakings to protect the public from negative effects of Heathrow development.   Given the rejection of these proposals – and a range of other ideas – the Lib Dem group voted against the Council budget.

On Gunnersbury the Lib Dems say that their analysis showed that the park, local history museum and mansions could be restored without imposing an excessive burden on Council tax payers. The Lib Dem proposal was for £8.2m to be raised through prudential borrowing and repaid over 25 years. They say that now Hounslow and Ealing Councils will be drawn to the proposal to raise the money by selling some of the park to developers or leave the local history collection to decay.

Cllr Andrew Dakers, Leader of Hounslow Liberal Democrats, said:“We are deeply disappointed that the Council was not prepared to take the action required to stop the decline of the park, local history museum and mansions. This is a site of local and national importance. We carefully costed our proposals and used the work of the consultants employed by the Council to chart a way forward. Now it seems that the indecision that has blighted the park and its mansions for years is set to continue.

“The arguments have gone on for too long. We wanted to inject a sense of urgency into the situation. While we accept that there were shortcomings in the public consultation about the future of the Park we think that this should not be used to stop efforts to make substantial progress.

“We are very worried about the future of the Local History Museum in view of the deteriorating fabric of the building it is in. Leaking roofs threaten the collection. We are sorry that the other parties did not see this as an important enough matter to make the modest investment we proposed.  It seems the Conservatives are not very interested in conservation.”

The Lib Dems want Hounslow to join with other Councils in putting a Cranford Agreement Bill before Parliament. They say that this would cost about £168,000 but that this could be shared with other Councils affected by airport noise. Their proposal that £56,000 be set aside for this purpose in the Council Budget was rejected at last Tuesday's Budget meeting.  The proposals have received the support of Cllr Mike Cox, leader of the Hillingdon Lib Dem Group as well as Cllr Stephen Knight, Deputy Leader of Richmond Council, who offered Richmond’s broad support for the proposal and would welcome a meeting with LB Hounslow to discuss it further.

Cllr Andrew Dakers, Leader of Hounslow Liberal Democrats, said: “Voters should take into account the fact that MPs Ann and Alan Keen dropped their opposition to airport expansion on the basis of a promise to keep runway alternation. Apart from the dismal record of BAA with respect to such promises it means that they found scrapping the Cranford Agreement acceptable.

“We greatly regret that the other parties did not see this issue as important enough to put up the money to take it all the way to Parliament. Unacceptable aircraft noise blights people's lives. Parliament is responsible for the situation and we should make use of our right to place a Bill before it to restore the Cranford Agreement.”

Cllr Barbara Reid, the lead member for Heathrow, said that rejecting the Lib Dem budget proposal did not mean that their proposal was ruled out. She seemed to imply that if the Bill seemed likely to produce a result it could perhaps be financed from money already allocated to efforts to oppose Heathrow expansion. 


March 3, 2010

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