Good news for South West London residents as council tax frozen again


But some London Assembly argued any money saved should be spent on apprenticeships

By George Boulton, Joel Lamy and Dan Prescott

Boroughs across South West London have pledged to freeze or decrease their council tax for the next year in order to protect residents in difficult financial circumstances.

Lambeth, Sutton and Merton will decrease of freeze their bills, while Kensington and Chelsea is giving residents a one-off £100 rebate after beating its efficiency targets.

Croydon is offering £25 off next year’s bills beginning in April, coupled with the Mayor’s reduction of a £4 cut on the tax for Band D properties from £303 to £299 – something he announced at the London Assembly budget meeting this week.

Councillor Mike Fisher, leader of Croydon Council, said: “We’ve been working hard to protect things that matter most to local residents in very difficult financial circumstances.

“This responsible management of our budget means we have, for the third time in four years, been able to ensure council tax bills will not rise.”

Not all London Assembly members were happy with the 33p a week budget that the mayor plans to implement.

Opposition councillors claim the £10m cost would be much better spent on apprenticeships in London.

Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Stephen Knight claimed that the reduction in council tax was so trivial that the public will not notice it.

In response, the Mayor replied: “What I do not think is reasonable is to whack up council tax like the previous administration did. If that is the policy of the Lib Dems then they should tell the public.”

In his foreword to the budget, Johnson said the drop in the tax would mean a 24% reduction since his time in office began in May 2008.

“Along with the Government, I am determined to cut the cost of living for hardworking Londoners. I am therefore delighted to announce that for the third year running I will be reducing the GLA Council Tax precept,” he stated.

Criticism has also been centred on the Mayor’s plans, with a proposed budget amendment which would see £10m more concentrated on apprenticeships from the £17.3billion set to be spent.

Currently, 0.9% of jobs in the capital are apprenticeships, compared to 2.1% nationally, although the recorded figure has risen from 72,210 to 77,110 over the past 12 months.

The Mayor has set a target of 250,000 apprenticeships to start in London by 2016 with around 110,000 having been delivered so far.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Assembly Caroline Pidgeon, who seconded the amendment, said: “London lags behind other parts of the country in employing apprentices. Our amendment will help turn that around by ensuring that an additional 80,000 apprenticeships are created by 2015.”

Her fellow party member Knight added: “With one in six 16 to 24-year-olds in London not in education, employment or training it makes absolute sense to expand the number of apprenticeships in the capital.

“The Mayor has a simple choice between cutting the council tax by a few pence or improving the life opportunities of young people. “Even at the eleventh hour I hope he puts the life chances of young Londoners first.”

During the debate, leader of the Assembly’s Labour group Len Duvall tweeted that the Mayor’s decision to prioritise a council tax cut over boosting apprenticeships was shameful.

Johnson himself, appearing before the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee on January 14, confirmed that if he had another £10 million to allocate in his 2014/15 Budget he would look to provide more support for young Londoners through his apprenticeship programme.

“I would want to make sure that we continue to fulfil our commitments and one of those is to get young Londoners into work.  I am very keen to support the apprenticeship programme.  If there is more that we can do there, that would attract me greatly,” he said.

Siobhan Cronin, Head of Engagement at QA – which offers apprenticeships throughout London – said she would like to see an extension on the Employer Grant which handed companies £150 for each apprentice (up to ten) which they took on.

“Our London employers saw it as a benefit and we have seen more demand. Apprenticeships are a great of dealing with youth unemployment and employment is a way to save our money,” she said.

“To be honest, Boris is a supporter of apprenticeships but we would definitely encourage him and the London Assembly to do more.”

The London Assembly’s Economic Committee is currently investigating why there are fewer apprenticeships in London than the rest of the country and what can be done to rectify this.

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