Council tax up by nearly £200 - but still the lowest average in UK

Council tax bills in Wandsworth are forced to go up next year to meet shortfalls in government grant and higher spending by the Mayor of London, claims Wandsworth Council. Councillors will be recommended on March 10 to set a Band D council tax of £580. The current year's figure is £398. Wandsworth is still likely to have the lowest average bills in the UK.

Wandsworth is one of the worst hit by the new system for sharing out cash to councils. Its 3.5 per cent increase in government grant is the lowest possible and compares with a national average of 5.9 per cent. The result is that the council, compared with other authorities, loses around £6 million in government grants.

Wandsworth residents, like others throughout London, will see a huge chunk of their council tax going straight to the Mayor. The cost of Ken Livingstone's GLA will go up by £51 to £224 for a band D householder.

Despite the funding pressures the council, which is rated as an excellent authority and one of the top 11 in the country by the government, has promised to press ahead with a battery of key initiatives and service improvements.

Those to affect Putney residents include:

* New extended doorstep recycling for 80,000 households with paper, card, cans, glass and plastic bottles all collected in a single orange sack
* Improved recycling on estates with 500 new euro-bins - both recycling initiatives with a combined cost for the council of £2 million.

* Construction of more than 50 new hidden homes on estates as part of the council's affordable housing programme at a cost of £2.8 million.
* Opening of a brand new secondary school at St Cecilia's, Sutherland Grove at a cost of £11 million.

Deputy council leader Maurice Heaster warned that popular initiatives like the town centre patrols would not be able to continue beyond their original two-year life if current levels of government support were taken away:

"Councils cannot fund policing schemes like these on their own. It is not fair to expect council tax payers to pick up the tab for all the police officers we have lost. The council will continue to look for ways of keeping its costs down in all areas.

This will not be at the expense of quality. Our priority will be to ensure that vital education and social services are protected so that we can go on helping the people who need it most. We are adding £1m to schools' budgets this year. This will help to compensate for some of the key Standards Fund programmes that the government has withdrawn.

Like many London councils we have been hit this year by a grant system which is skewed towards northern areas and a profligate Mayor who is never short of a new way to spend Londoners' money. Both factors will have a long term impact on our ability to keep the council tax at an affordable level.

The good news is that Wandsworth is a robust, well-managed council. A council tax of £580 is still excellent value for money - especially when more than half of London's councils will be setting bills in excess of £1,000."

The council's budget requirement for 2003/2004 will be set at £258 million.

The proposals for 2003/2004 will be considered first by the corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee on February 27 before being voted on by the full council at its meeting on March 10.

The Band D figure of £580 will be paid by residents of two person households in the majority area of the borough. Residents who pay commons rates to Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators will pay a slightly higher inclusive figure of £599.

Associated article:

Tax hike warning in December 10.12.2002