Council tax hike as budget is agreed

Thursday, 29 February 2024 23:33

By Gurdip Thandi, Local Democracy Reporter

Mike Bird, Leader of Walsall Council

A near-five per cent hike in council tax along with increased charges and cuts to services will come into effect after Walsall Council agreed its budget.

Bosses at the authority were able to pass a legally required balanced budget for 2024/25, along with plans for following three years, at a resumed full council meeting on Wednesday.

The 4.99 per cent council tax increase includes a two per cent increase ring fenced to go towards funding increasing adult social care costs.

A package of £20 million savings will also be delivered which includes the dimming of street lights, the closure of the two borough tips one day a week and ending Christmas lights funding alongside increase charges.

But leader Mike Bird also said the authority was committed to significant investments of around £370 million for projects such as the Willenhall Masterplan, Town Funds and school funding over the coming years.

The annual council tax bills from April 1, which includes levies imposed by the Police and Crime Commissioner and West Midlands Fire Authority are as follows (last year’s figure in brackets):

BAND A: £1,583.53 (£1,507.36)

BAND B: £1,847.46 (£1,758.59)

BAND C: £2,111.38 (£2,009.81)

BAND D: £2,375.31 (£2,261.05)

BAND E: £2,903.15 (£2,763.50)

BAND F: £3,430.99 (£3,265.96)

BAND G: £3,958.84 (£3,768.40)

BAND H: £4,750.91 (£4,522.09)

Walsall Labour leader Matt Ward, his predecessor Aftab Nawaz – who leads a group of former Labour councillors who left the party over Keir Starmer’s stance on Gaza – and independent Peter Smith all voted against the budget who said it was impacting people who could least afford it.

But Councillor Bird said Walsall was the envy of most councils in the UK for being able to set a balanced budget while protecting front line services, including adult and children’s social care.

He said: “It has been extremely challenging to balance this year’s budget and the medium term will continue to be difficult to manage even though the council is in a strong financial position with a robust level of reserves.

“Limited additional funding being made available in the Government’s one year settlement published in December and the continued reliance on councils to raise local council tax does not make it easy.

“We’ve had no choice to increase our council tax by 4.99 per cent broken down to 2.99 per cent for general tax and more importantly, a two per cent precept for adult social care which even at this time is not enough.

“This equates to a daily increase of 27p on an average B and D (band) council tax.

“I think this council should be patting itself on the back for the finances we now collectively bring together.

“We are the envy of other councils in this country – we hear Nottingham, Derby, Dudley, Coventry, Birmingham are now in a situation where they are struggling with their budget – we are not.”

Councillor Keir Pedley, portfolio holder for adult social care, said last year he had recommended not adding an adult social care precept to reflect the views of the chamber to the Government.

This resulted in additional funding of £4.64 million but he said this was “nowhere near enough” for what they needed.

Councillor Ward said: “Council tax is going up by 4.9 per cent adding around £100 to a Band C property when families are struggling left right and centre.

“Walsall Council already has one of the highest council taxes in the country. Compared to Westminster, a band C property will only pay £810 a year while in Walsall we are looking at over £1,800.”

He added: “We’ve got £710,000 in uncollected rent. We’ve got businesses operating in Walsall in our assets that haven’t paid rent in eight months.

“In the private sector, within seven days you’d have a notice slapped on the door to pay your rent or you’re out.”

Councillor Nawaz put forward a motion calling for the proposal for increasing charges of burial fees and out of hours burial charges being scrapped and the £124,000 anticipated income coming from reserves – but this was defeated.

He said: “Over the past decade, the narrative from the Government is to cut council finance and then blame local councils for the impact of these cuts.

“Austerity for Local government has continued and residents are seeing and feeling the impact.

“This sets out a maximum rise in council tax at a time when people are unable to afford it. Therefore we cannot support it.”

And Councillor Smith warned Walsall Council’s very existence was under threat due to continuing cuts in Government funding.

He said: “People are fed up of increases in council tax every year at the same time diminishing services and increases in charges.

“You don’t mind paying more tax if you get more services. There is not enough people standing up and fighting to change the system. People who vote for this are knocking another nail in the coffin of Walsall Council.”

But Conservative councillors Kerry Murphy and Adam Hicken said the finance teams deserved credit for balancing the budget in challenging circumstances and the budget was passed.



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