On 21 February, H&F Council decided to freeze council tax at its current level, the third lowest in the country. While this is welcome in principle, the longer term implications of this decision should not be overlooked. Since 2006, tax has fallen in real terms while council budgets have been cut by over 50%. It is true that the Labour-led Council has been able to recoup some of the money wasted by previous Tory councillors on failed property development projects. However, with rising inflation and the loss of foreign investment in our Brexit economy, it is simply impossible for any council to sustain an acceptable level of public services with half the previous budget.
The reality is that most residents we surveyed would rather pay a little more in order to have better services, cleaner and safer roads. Providing crucial services for crime prevention, planning applications, social care, libraries, rubbish collection and recycling, to name but a few, is costly, and the Council will be struggling to deliver these. More ambitious targets such as the creation of 'genuinely affordable homes', a 'groundbreaking industrial policy' and the long-awaited tunnelling of the A4, which will bring a huge reduction in pollution and noise, become less and less realistic. Residents have told us again and again that they care about these issues and are worried about increasing rates of crime and pollution, lengthy planning procedures and broken lights.
The inherent problem with our council tax system, which is pegged to unrealistic property value bands and regressive in nature, cannot be solved by freezing tax for all. Poorer, fewer public services hurt all residents, but mostly families and those on low incomes. It is by creating tax relief for those who are hardest pressed, not cutting real tax for everyone, that this unfairness can be addressed. A modest increase in council tax, supported by further efficiency gains and coupled with fair tax exemptions, will go a long way towards making life better, safer and cleaner for Hammersmith and Fulham Residents.
Liberal Democrats call for a small, gradual increase in Council Tax, coupled with a Smart City strategy which will not only achieve a much better quality of life for residents, but deliver substantial cost savings.
‘Smart City’ is not just a buzzword. In a nutshell, it means making clever use of new digital technologies to link services and infrastructure to the internet and to each other, for example by connecting public transport and traffic congestion data with hospital bed availability, to ensure that patients can get to the nearest hospital in the quickest possible time. But also to make daily life easier for commuters, ease traffic congestion, reduce the time it takes to travel to work or eliminate the need to commute altogether, through better technology and ‘telecommuting’. Finally, to help local business with logistics and attract investment into technology companies, skills and education. A Smart City strategy is a long term investment in the future of the Borough which will ensure that no drastic council tax increases will be necessary to sustain the quality of services residents rightly expect.