In the world of local government Christmas time also means budget time. Any day now we will see the first iteration of the Labour Council’s budget proposals for the 2015/16 financial year. As my colleague, Cllr Harry Phibbs, has already blogged, the Government has given H&F Council a generous grant settlement representing a reduction in spending power of just 4.7%. This is a smaller reduction in grant than many other boroughs, including Conservative boroughs such as Westminster (-5.3%), as well as Labour boroughs like Hackney (-6.3%) and Islington (-5%).
So what does this mean? In theory it should make it a lot easier for the Labour lot in the Town Hall to continue the Conservative legacy of reducing council tax. Indeed, despite causing council tax to be so high in H&F the first place, raising it by an average of 7.7% per year when they last ran the council, Labour improbably ran on a lower council tax message in the council elections last May. I hope they do cut council tax. For many it is the second largest bill they pay every month after rent or mortgage, and it would be nothing short of criminal to start increasing it again after such hard work went into reducing the bill by 20% over the past eight years.
Sadly, I am not hopeful. Thus far we have seen nothing that suggests Labour Councillors are ready to reduce the amount the council spends. Indeed, they put the brakes on Tri and Bi-borough reforms, particularly in the corporate services area (payroll, HR, IT etc) which will not only have cost H&F dear, but also our neighbours in Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster. They have done nothing to address the costly over supply of primary places in the south of the borough. And they are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on 'consulting' council tenants over selling off their homes to Housing Associations. All they have talked about is an imaginary saving in terms of communications spend, where in reality all they have done is cut off an income stream from advertising.
Perhaps the budget papers will reveal Labour’s golden egg. Or perhaps they will show that it’s just the same old Labour, addicted to ever higher spending with no clue how to pay for it. And that can mean only one thing: higher taxes, more borrowing and another great mess left for the next Conservative council to sort out.
On a brighter note, it has been fantastic to see Fulham buzzing this Christmas. It is always uplifting to see All Saints Church in Fulham packed out for the annual Community Carol Service, our shops glistening with trees and decorations, as well as our fantastic pubs and restaurants full of cheer as local businesses host their Christmas parties and friends and families come together.
May I take this opportunity to wish all who live, work and play in Hammersmith & Fulham a very Merry Christmas and happy, prosperous New Year.