Croydon councillors approve 15% council tax hike

At a council meeting on Wednesday night, Conservative Mayor Jason Perry’s controversial 15% tax hike was passed as Labour abstained from voting.

During the three and a half hour meeting on Wednesday 8 March, Labour councillors initially held steadfast to their position as they voted against the budget two hours in.

Curiously, another round of voting was held an hour later where Labour councillors unanimously abstained, thus indirectly allowing the budget to pass.

Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Stuart King, prefigured the drastic call as he stated: “We cannot in good conscience repeatedly block the setting of a legal budget this evening and plunge the borough into a Conservative-made constitutional financial crisis—we will therefore regrettably abstain from the next vote.”

The council budget for the upcoming year had been voted down only a week earlier by 37-34 votes due to Labour, Green and Lib Dem opposition.

On Wednesday, the budget was approved following 34 votes in favour, three against, and 33 abstentions.

Plans to raise council tax to 15%, for which Croydon council received special permission, are controversial, partly as any increase larger than 5% normally warrants a public referendum.

The Conservative line is that the increase is an unfortunate but necessary measure needed to get the bankrupt council back on track.

Councillor Tony Pearson said: “Have Labour come forward with any proposal that is legal or based on reality? They’ve come forward with no proposals, come forward with no alternative options.”

Councillor King said that he had written to the Mayor immediately after last week’s vote saying he was happy to sit down and discuss possible ways forward but hadn’t received a reply.

Councillor Jason Cummings, Minister for Finance, responded by saying that while the Mayor had not met with Mr King, he had.

Other Labour Councillors, such as Councillor Tamar Barrett, also stressed the point that if given sufficient time, Labour could have come up with an alternative.

To this, Councillor Cummings retorted: “The Greens managed to and they’ve been on this council for less than a year and there are only two of them.”

Labour Councillors initially appeared resolute in their opposition, with Councillor Callton Young stating: “15% doesn’t deserve support but the Mayor already knows that. I won’t be voting for it.”

Councillor Janet Campbell said: “This 15 percent council tax increase will simply be feeding into inequality and deprivation.”

There were then grave warnings from the council’s Section 151 officer, Jane West, who said: “Failing to pass the budget will not only be unlawful it will make a bad financial situation worse and damage the council’s reputation even further.”

Following a brief adjournment, councillors returned three hours into the meeting and allowed the budget to pass as Labour members universally abstained.

Councillors such as Chris Clark and Ellily Ponnuthurai expressed their reluctance as Ponnuthurai stated: “With a heavy heart I’m forced to abstain from this heartless budget.”

A verdict was reached and Councillor Alisa Flemming announced that the council tax and budget for 2023-24 had now been formally agreed.

Inside Croydon pointed out: “If the budget is not passed in time, then the government—which has been pulling the strings in Croydon since late 2020—will be obliged to send in commissioners. All councillors, and Mayor Perry, will lose their positions, and their allowances (an immediate saving of £1.5million per year).”

In a statement following the vote, Mayor Perry said: “I’m pleased that council has agreed this difficult budget which will help us deliver services for residents whilst taking much-needed action to fix Croydon’s finances.”

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