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A council fairness commission had recommended people on council tax support receive a 100% discount (photo: Howard Lake via Creative Commons)

Greenwich Conservative leader Matt Hartley has accused the Labour council of backtracking on a promise to exempt 15,000 low-income residents from council tax – but council leader Danny Thorpe has called on his opposite number to fight for more cash for councils from central government.

Thorpe’s predecessor, Denise Hyland, told a council meeting in February 2018 that adults on council tax support – who are currently get 85% off their bills – would be completely exempt from April 2019 (see video here). This followed Hartley bringing a motion to the same council meeting, which set the council tax rate for this financial year, suggesting such a proposal, which had also been recommended by the council’s fairness commission.

Now plans are being made for next year’s council tax bills, and yesterday the council’s cabinet discussed the “council tax base” – a valuation relating to how much money it can expect to receive from residents.

Hyland’s claim that adults on council tax support would be exempt from this April does not appear in the valuation, which was agreed by the cabinet yesterday. Instead, it says that current arrangements will continue until next year. It adds that “an updated scheme, one that is able to target the most vulnerable, can be drafted and consulted upon during 2019”, taking into account the effect of the controversial Universal Credit.

‘We had a clear promise’

Hartley, who said last year he was sceptical about Hyland’s claim, has accused the council of “a clear breach of Cllr Hyland’s promise”.

He said: “The more I think about this, the angrier it makes me. After they voted down our idea – into which went a lot of work – last February, we received a clear promise from Labour councillors that they would implement the change anyway this April.

“The change that we have proposed isn’t cheap, but it is the right thing to do, and we have shown how it could be paid for without affecting frontline services.

“Ultimately, as with so many things, this is all about the council’s priorities in how it uses the powers and resources it has. It seems the new Labour leadership is more interested in protecting its pointless fortnightly magazine than helping residents on low incomes.”

‘Trying to be seen as the good guy’

The council tax base was passed without discussion by the council’s cabinet yesterday. After the meeting, Thorpe accused his opposite number of “trying to be seen as the good guy”.

“His new strategy is to leak everything to the press and try to be seen as the good guy – where’s he been on fair funding [of councils]? Absolutely nowhere,” he said.

“If he’s really serious about wanting to help residents, we look forward to his letter to the minister saying don’t give any money to the counties, because poverty exists in London, and we look forward to him joining the campaign of the Local Government Association Labour group to fight that cause.”

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