Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Council cuts tax & freezes parking charges

Our Council has declared itself the UK’s "low tax borough" - as it unveils plans to cut tax for the sixth year out of seven and freeze parking charges. To accompany this good news story it has released the above film.

While most household bills - including gas, electricity, food and petrol - continue to soar, H&F has announced its intention to buck the national trend by cutting council tax by 3% again this April.

This reduction will see H&F taxpayers paying the third lowest council tax in Britain while resident satisfaction with services is close to being at an all-time high. While household bills have rocketed by around one third (33%) since 2007, council tax will have fallen by 17% in H&F - if the latest reduction is approved at a budget meeting in February. Pay and display and permit parking charges are also set to be frozen at £2.20 per hour or £119 per year.

The cumulative saving of six tax cuts, of 3% or more, over the past seven years has saved H&F residents £667 since 2007. In comparison, during the same period, the cumulative, year-on-year cost of gas, electricity, petrol and food has risen by almost £5,000

While H&F Council is announcing its latest reduction - thought to the largest in the country, many other local authorities, such as Rochdale, Harrow, Herefordshire and Aylesbury Vale are proposing to increase their council tax by up to 3.5%

H&F Council argues that it has been catapulted from one of the worst councils for value for money in 1999 (27th out of 32 in London) to the top 3 low tax boroughs in the country. The journey has not been without controversy though. Yet however much you agree or disagree with their priorities you have to give them credit for this latest announcement, which will come as a relief to many.

The ‘low tax borough’ says the secret of its low-tax/high-performing services is mainly down to a relentless private sector ethos that means the council is now more ‘lean, agile and in tune with residents’ concerns than ever before.

Senior management costs have been reduced by half, debt repayments to the banks have also halved and office accommodation costs have been reduced by more than a third.

Cllr Nicholas Botterill, H&F Council Leader, said:
“A radical revolution has seen the council transformed from a cumbersome and bureaucratic place into a lean and dynamic organisation. From a lower cost base, we are now able to respond rapidly to the needs of our customers - just like the best companies in the private sector do. 

“Our approach has catapulted us from relegation fodder in the league table of low tax boroughs into the top 3 of the Premier League. While other household costs continue to rise and pile pressure on families we have strived to leave more of our residents’ hard-earned cash in their pockets. 

“While council tax is falling year after year, our parks have never been greener, our streets are cleaner, our schools have never performed better and residents are noticing the improvements. 

“Other public bodies wanting to follow our lead need to know the top three factors to improving front-line services while delivering savings are to strip out duplicated layers of management, reduce debt repayments to the banks and drive down accommodation costs and overhead.” 
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, said:
"Once again, Hammersmith & Fulham is leading the way in saving taxpayers’ money and cutting out waste and inefficiency. Other councils across the country should follow its example, and adopt innovative ways to deliver sensible savings that protect frontline services and keep council tax down.” 
Matthew Elliott, Founder of the Taxpayers' Alliance, the Conservative lobby campaign for lower taxes, said:
"Cllr Nicholas Botterill and his team should be heartily congratulated for managing to cut council tax so consistently over so many years. Hammersmith & Fulham truly is a shining example of a low tax borough. Other local authorities up and down the UK should learn from them, follow their example, and deliver better services and lower council tax for their residents." 
From April 2013, the average ‘band D’ council tax bill in H&F is set to fall by £23.44 - from £781.34 to £757.90. The cumulative saving of six tax cuts, of 3% or more, over the past seven years has saved residents £667 since 2007. While reducing tax and debt, services have improved in a host of areas:
  • Secondary schools are amongst the best in the country, according to Ofsted. H&F is one of only nine of the 151 local authorities to have all its schools judged to be ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding’. H&F has more sixth formers going to a top university than any other authority, despite the fact that 36% of pupils receive free school meals compared to 17% nationally 
  • Crime is down six years out of seven, thanks in part to the Council’s spend on extra town centre police. This year there were 489 fewer crimes compared to the previous 12 months. 
  • H&F is in London’s top five for the cleanest streets. A mobile phone app was recently launched to make it easier than ever for people to report fly-tips, graffiti and litter. 
  • Nine of H&F’s parks have been awarded the national ‘Green Flag’ accolade. 
  • More vulnerable people are eligible for free homecare in H&F that would be denied if they lived in 28 out of 32 other London boroughs. 
In 2013/14 the council is planning to save £22million in total, of which just over £5m is a result of sharing services with Westminster City Council (WCC) and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). Just over £2m is being saved in debt repayments.

Around 175 senior management jobs have gone as a result of sharing children’s, adults and library services with WCC and RBKC. H&F and RBKC also share environmental services and a chief executive. The three councils are on course to save £40million a year by 2015/16.

The Council lists its top three secrets of ‘the low tax borough’ as:
  • Cutting out duplicated management posts by sharing services with neighbouring boroughs. Around half of senior management posts (175 posts) have been deleted as a result of sharing services with Westminster City Council (WCC) and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). 
  • Cutting debt repayments to the banks. H&F has cut its historic debt from £168million to less than £100million for the first time in a generation, saving taxpayers £5million in annual debt repayments. 
  • Reducing fixed costs. Over the last six years H&F has cut its accommodation costs by more than a third as the council’s office footprint has shrunk from 29,343sq m in 2007 to 18,547 sq m. i.e. reduced by 10,796 sq m/116,200 square feet or equivalent to what it calls a staggering 2.7 acres!

1 comment:

  1. Well done Chris. Nice to see you praising 'them' for something.