Posted: 22.02.21 at 15:30 by The Editor
THURROCK Council’s Labour group have been charged with indulging in ‘cheap and petty politics’ by the authority’s Conservative group leader after his members were asked to freeze this year’s council tax to help families who are struggling to get by because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Conservative group plan to raise the tax by the maximum amount adding their own precept of 1.99 per cent to a three per cent rise to cover the cost of additional social care.
Across the Essex region other councils have reined in tax increases but Thurrock Tories, despite having frequently championed their controversial financial strategy of borrowing to invest to generate funds to improve service and build reserves feel they have no choice but to levy a full tariff on local residents.
The council’s annual budget-setting meeting will take place on Wednesday (24 February) and in advance of it Labour’s leader Cllr John Kent says he hopes all councillors will reject the full increase.
He says: “In just four years the Conservatives have increased council tax by £216 and are now proposing a £76.41 increase this year.
“Senior Conservative councillors have insisted for months that Thurrock Council’s finances are sound and there is no problem. Now they have suddenly changed their tune, and are using Covid-19 to justify yet another inflation-busting council tax increase.
“While nobody could have foreseen this pandemic or its consequences any effects Covid-19 may have had on the council finances has been completely overshadowed by the Conservatives’ reckless borrowing and general financial incompetence.
“If this increase goes ahead our council tax will have risen by a massive £292 or 21% since 2016. Clearly Thurrock Conservatives' instinct is to raise council tax – they’ve done it every year.
“We know growing numbers of local families are struggling to get by and more will do so as we emerge from the pandemic, the last thing they need is another Conservative council tax increase. Families need our help and support now more than ever.
“That’s why at Wednesday’s evening full council meeting, Labour will invite Conservative councillors to join with us to reject the proposed council tax increase and support our plan to freeze council tax.
“I will be contacting every Thurrock councillor asking them to support our proposal to freeze this year’s tax.
“It’s an opportunity for Conservative councillors to do the right thing, I hope they take it”.
However, Thurrock Council leader, Cllr Rob Gledhill (whose cabinet approved the increase earlier this month has responded by saying: “This budget delivers the lowest council tax in Essex and one of the lowest in the country. It invests in extra police, and provides care services with increased investment, to support the front line workers, who are still dealing with the impact of Covid.
“This all means the average bill from the council going up by just 99p per week but will mean over £2 million in supporting our most vulnerable adults and over £1.3 in services residents rely on.
“Labour, for the sake of campaigning and headline-grabbing, know full well that their, so called, promise would hit the front line by blocking investments in care workers for the vulnerable, the police, supporting those who need support to pay with their council tax and “clean it, cut it, fill it”.
“It’s cynical politics, defunding key services for a few short term votes - it proves Labour are not serious about leadership. Labour councils up and down the country will be increasing council tax this year to the maximum. Thurrock Labour are taking residents for fools if they think people will fall for this cheap trick.
“While every else is rolling up their sleeves and working together to fight the pandemic, Labour continue to concentrate on cheap and petty politics.”
In addition to the local tax increase of 4.99 per cent, Essex Police commissioner Roger Hirst’s budget for policing has been approved which will mean a rise by 2.94 per cent to cover inflationary costs. This is the equivalent to an increase of £5.67 a year from £192.96 to £198.63 for a Band D property. There is no increase to the cost of the fire service.
Wednesday’s council meeting when the budget will be discussed is likely to be as contentious and fractious as last year’s: See report here.
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