Council tax to rise as budget approved

Haringey Civic Centre

Tax hike of nearly 5% to come in from April, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Labour councillors on Haringey Council have approved a rise in council tax and rejected calls to ditch a £12million building scheme dubbed a “vanity project” by the Lib Dems.

Members of the Labour administration voted through a budget they said would help reduce inequality at a full council meeting on Monday – claiming the tax hike was needed to finance several important schemes.

Haringey’s two main parties clashed over the budget proposals. The Lib Dems claimed Labour had failed to improve the borough despite being in power for decades, while Labour slammed the opposition over austerity policies brought in during their party’s coalition government with the Tories.

The 4.99% council tax rise is made up of a 1.99% rise in core council tax and a 3% increase in a levy used to fund adult social care.

Cabinet member for finance Charles Adje, a White Hart Lane councillor, said: “We need to confront structural inequality and to invest in one another. We need to create a fairer, more equal Haringey – and this budget takes us a further step forward.”

Cllr Adje said the money raised from council tax would help to fund a local welfare assistance scheme, the expansion of free school meals and a job training service.

A new youth hub in Wood Green, a fund to help young people into higher education and extra money for food banks were among the other schemes getting financial backing from the council, Cllr Adje said.

But the Lib Dems called for the plans to build new office space at the Grade 2-listed Haringey Civic Centre in Wood Green to be axed and money spent on high streets, community and cultural projects.

The opposition group supports investing £12m to repair the civic centre but opposes spending a further £12m on office space – although Labour claims the scheme will ultimately help save money.

The Lib Dems also called for more support for businesses and mental health improvement schemes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which would largely be funded by staff cuts at the council.

Lib Dem finance spokesperson Paul Dennison said problems made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic had been “exacerbated by the 50 years of failure endemic in Labour’s stewardship of this borough”.

Cllr Dennison added: “We need action to help the council be at the heart of change in our town centres, actions to start to reverse lifelong health inequalities, and we need to invest money in our community and not in a new council building project.”

Lib Dem leader Luke Cawley-Harrison said: “Now is not the time to be spending millions on new council offices that may become redundant before they are even completed. It is a simply baffling decision made at an astonishing time to do so.”

Council leader Joseph Ejiofor hit back at the Lib Dems, criticising proposals to cut town hall staff even further after they had been “invaluable” in leading the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cllr Ejiofor said the council had already made plans to recruit officers who would “support businesses through the recovery and help create local jobs”.

The leader added: “The Lib Dems also talk about providing value for money for residents, while their proposals for Haringey Civic Centre would effectively mean spending money on the civic centre and then mothballing it.

“It is a ludicrous policy when money is so short, and we must be seen to gain benefit from every single penny.”

At the end of the debate, Labour members voted against the three amendments proposed by the Lib Dems before approving the original budget plans.