TORIES say Britain’s biggest council tax cut has now been agreed in Hammersmith and Fulham but opposition councillors say residents are still being hit in the pocket thanks to a rise in ‘stealth taxes’.
It is the seventh year out of eight that Hammersmith and Fulham Council has cut its share of the council tax bill – which will now be £735 for a band D taxpayer from April 2014. The last time council tax was lower in the borough was in 1999.
To heckling from Conservative councillors, Labour Leader Stephen Cowan highlighted 600 new or inflation-busting ‘stealth taxes.’
He said: “Hammersmith and Fulham is a high tax borough because the Conservative administration now lifts a staggering £64.5 million out of local residents and businesses’ pockets. This year they have added 64 brand new stealth taxes.
“The policy of using CCTV cameras to entrap motorists has seen traffic fines increase from 3,975 in 2006 to an unbelievable 72,837 last year.
“There is a new £290 charge for someone to buy a head stone for a deceased loved one, a new £919 charge for grieving friends and family to donate a park bench and council rents are up by nearly treble inflation.
“If you’re a resident driving your car, running in parks, renting a council home, setting up a local business, suffering illness, or grieving for a lost loved one you are likely to have suffered one of the Conservatives’ new or inflation-busting charges, fines and taxes. These are tough times and I believe the council is obliged to genuinely put money back into people's pockets. That's what I would do.”
Highlighting a recent council u-turn over plans to charge grieving parents hundreds of pounds to bury their still-born infants, councillor PJ Murphy, said: “Whilst the council has backed down on charging to bury children as a result of the Chronicle’s work they have hidden charges for the internment of their cremated remains.
“Currently there is no charge to purchase/reserve a space but moving forward a new charge of £1,192 applies to residents and double that for non-residents. I find this abhorrent. It completely undermines the council's previous claim in response the Chronicle’s story that they were simply exploring options and no decision had been made. The council are now in the somewhat bizarre position where it is free to bury a child but not their cremated remains. It is either incompetence or arrogance.”
Council Leader Councillor Nicholas Botterill, said the council is working hard to cut the cost of living for residents.
He said: “By agreeing the biggest council tax cut in Britain we are easing the cost of living by driving down bills to a level not seen since the last millennium.
“We have saved local taxpayers £848 over eight years, which is the price of a small family holiday, as we believe it is essential that councils do all they can to help hard-working families by delivering quality services at the lowest possible cost.”
The council says the tax reduction is possible because it has saved money by sharing management posts with neighbouring boroughs, halving its historic £176 million debt and by reforming the way front-line services are delivered.
While council tax has been falling the council also say that the borough is safer than ever - with recorded crime at an all-time low, according to Met Police statistics. The borough’s parks have received 13 nationally-recognised Green Flag awards, local schools have never been more popular and the council has retained weekly, and in some cases twice-weekly, bin collections.
Overall satisfaction with council services has climbed to 74 per cent - up from 66 per cent in 2012 - while the percentage of people who say the council provides value for money has stayed steady at 61 per cent, according to the council’s annual residents’ survey 2013.