Wandsworth Accused of Talking "Bunk" on Rate Capping
and Voluntary Sector Spending Cuts fault of Council say Opposition
The controversy over Wandsworth Council's budget freeze continues to rage with opposition politicians claiming the threat of rate capping is being exaggerate to deflect the blame over reduced funding for education and voluntary groups.
Three senior Councillors including Council leader Edward Lister received an official dressing down from school's minister David Milibrand over the failure of Wandsworth Council to 'passport' £529,000 of Government funding to local schools.
Wandsworth Council claims it could not afford to pay the full amount as other services would have to be cut to provide the money. They say they were concerned about rate capping after threats from Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford and therefore decided to freeze the level of Council Tax. Following the meeting a letter from David Milibrand was faxed to the Council informing them that there were no plans for rate capping.
Battersea MP Martin Linton said that there was no justification in blaming the cuts on the Government, “These cuts are entirely the responsibility of the Conservatives in charge of Wandsworth Council. I’m afraid councillors are talking total bunk when they say otherwise."
Tony Colman MP said fo the budget "it comes with a £1 million cut in the Schools Budget (second year running) and cuts on a whole range of Putney services - luncheon clubs, cancer resource centre, bereavement services - of a further £300,000 and the loss of Putney CAB through another cut of £300,000. The electors of Putney have a choice in 2006 whether they wish to have the reserves used to keep/restore services or a small increase in Council Tax."
Wandsworth Council has also been the subject of an early day motion tabled in the House of Commons by Tooting MP Tom Cox recently. It called on the Government to launch immediate talks with the council to release its reserves to continue funding the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Cancer Resource Centre, pensioners' lunch clubs and other groups. The 34 signatories include Putney MP Tony Colman.
Councillor Lister said: "It is absolutely ridiculous that we are being castigated for being a low council tax council and then castigated for having a high council tax rise last year in percentage terms."
The Council voted to approve the budget which cut £190,000 from the funding of voluntary groups and ignored Government calls to increase education funding. The Council did increase its general reserve by £3 million. The leader of the Labour group, Toby Belton criticised this decision saying that Wandsworth already had the lowest per-pupil funding in inner London.
March 16, 2004