Tory London borough among five to hike council tax

A Conservative-run council in London is among five boroughs which plan to raise council tax next year, in defiance of the government and rejecting the offer of extra money for a tax freeze as a "short-term gimmick".

Bromley Council is proposing an increase just short of the 2% cap which would have triggered a public vote in the borough.

Like Bromley, Kingston-upon-Thames, Lewisham, Harrow and Croydon are also set to raise council tax.

Recently Communities Secretary Eric Pickles accused some councils of being "democracy dodgers" for proposing increases just beneath the threshold which would require a referendum.

But Bromley's leader Stephen Carr says the borough - geographically the largest in London - is being "poorly-funded" by government and he is confident that local people will back the increase, £14 for the average household, to preserve services.

'No-gimmicks' approach

He argues that the government's offer to fund a freeze was a "very short-term solution" for two years, and after that bigger financial problems would still need to be addressed.

He said: "We have a no-gimmicks long-term approach to finance and we aren't going to sacrifice that for a short-term one-off period.

"It's about balance and judgement. We have consulted local residents and we think that for a relatively small increase in council tax we can protect key front-line services.

"Bromley remains the second lowest funded borough in London and yet has the second lowest council tax in outer London."

Image caption Irene McNamara says her son with learning disabilities has lost out in service cuts

Mr Pickles made it clear he hoped most councils would freeze their council tax next year.

He said he was not opposed to tax rises that would "fund local opportunities", but said authorities must "be straight with people", and win over the public first.

Some campaigners have criticised Bromley's Tory administration for proposed and past cuts to services, including the closure of day centres, reduced provision for the elderly and disabled, and the closure of a library.

'Welcome boost'

Former Conservative councillor Rod Reed - now an independent local campaigner - said the council could save money instead by cutting the number of senior officers and using millions of pounds in reserves.

He also claims it has gone back on promises to cut the number of councillors by a third.

But Mr Carr says people will be content to pay more council tax because of its past record of value for money.

Apart from the five boroughs which are set to raise council tax, 23 boroughs say they are planning to freeze it and two - Bexley and Wandsworth - have not yet decided.

Labour-controlled Hounslow is one of two boroughs - the other being Hammersmith and Fulham- which have announced they will reduce council tax next year.

It is offering a cut of half a percent, or £5.45 pounds, for the average household.

Leader Jagdish Sharma said it was a "small but welcome boost" to residents, made possible by achieving more than anticipated savings this year, and despite facing a £12m cut in budget next year.

Tax cut 'meaningless'

Mr Sharma said: "I think the council is becoming leaner and smarter. We have had to make a lot of redundancies."

But some say the cut to council tax in Hounslow is "meaningless" after two years in which the council has had to find savings of £30m.

Irene McNamara and Sue Clark, who have adult sons with learning difficulties, were part of an unsuccessful campaign to prevent their life-skills day centre from closing last year.

They say their sons now have less intensive support and attend fewer hours at another centre, and their free transport has been cut.

Mrs McNamara said: "My son has lost community and continuity. It's been an awful time for us.

"Wherever you go, it's the OAP or disabled person who gets the first cut."

Mrs Clark said: "We would rather be paying the higher council tax we were paying and keeping it as it was."

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