Ealing's Labour council has hailed its latest budget - which freezes council tax for a seventh year - despite the Tories branding it "unfair, unjust and self-serving".
The council’s ruling Labour group promised to implement a freeze for 2015-16 in its manifesto at last year’s elections, in order to help local residents with the "cost of living crisis" which it says the government has created.
And on Tuesday night (February 24), councillors made good on their pledge and froze council tax for a seventh consecutive year in a row, despite facing a shortfall of £183m, the result of lost government grants.
Council leader Julian Bell said: “Labour promised to freeze council tax in May and we have kept our word. We know how much local residents are suffering under this Tory-led Government and that is why we have kept bills frozen. Bills have not gone up by one penny since we got into power.”
Labour cabinet member for finance, Cllr Yvonne Johnson, added: “We are facing a mountain of cuts from the Tory-led Government. Between 2010-18 we‘ve had £183m worth of cuts from our budgets.
“Balancing the books has been extremely difficult and we’ve had to take decisions we did not want to. We’ve done our best to protect residents and the services that local people rely on.”
However Ealing’s opposition Conservative group accused the Labour administration of finding 53% of its savings from the Adults, Children and Families budget, while at the same time increasing councillors allowances.
Tory leader, Cllr Gregory Stafford, said: “Residents will be horrified to know that whilst Labour was happy to raid the council coffers to award themselves a pay increase they did not strive to keep a number of essential services open.
“Another two day-centres for people with mental health and severe physical disabilities are to be closed on top of the three previously closed by Labour.”
He said key front-line services were being “slashed”, including £6.5m from the public health grant which funds school nurses, child protection and sexual health clinics.
Cllr Stafford added: “For Labour to cut these services whilst rewarding themselves, protecting the trade unions and management is incredulous. This is truly an unfair, unjust and outright self-serving budget.”
Cllr Gary Malcolm for the Liberal Democrat group said Labour had “pulled the trigger on those with mental conditions or are severely physically disabled day centre users”.
The budget has commited the council to invest in publicly-owned facilities like schools, council housing, roads, sports and leisure amenities and meet the demands of Ealing’s growing population.
It includes £45m to expand secondary schools and £12m to replace the main building at Northolt High School and £8.3m towards transforming Gunnersbury Park’s sports facilities over the next five years.
Some £3.6m will be spent on disabled facilities and other improvement grants, £4m to improve roads and pavements and £480,000 to start work on Dine in Southall restaurant and hospitality training school at Southall Manor House.