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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)

Council tax in Greenwich borough is set to rise by almost four per cent from April under new budget plans outlined today.

Bills will be hiked 3.99%, including a 2% increase to cover spiralling social care costs as the government places more of the burden for this on council tax payers. A band D bill would go up by 90p per week under the proposal.

However, some of the borough’s poorest residents – who currently get 85% off their bills – will be taken out of council tax altogether, nearly three years after a fairness commission set up by the council recommended it do this. Last January, council leader Danny Thorpe was accused of breaking a promise by his predecessor, Denise Hyland, to do this earlier.

A team to help residents on universal credit will be set up, with £750,000 going to an emergency support scheme to help recipients in crisis.

The council says it will be spending an extra £1.5 million on parks, although there is not detail on what this will fund. The current parks budget is £3.7 million per year. It will also spend money on “electric vehicle charging infrastructure, car clubs and measures that discourage car use and enable people to walk, cycle and use public transport” to respond to the climate emergency.

It will also be putting money into incentives to help people make their homes more climate-friendly, including helping people replace gas boilers with more sustainable alternatives.

A consultation which begins today also asks residents if homes left empty for more than five years should attract a 200% council tax surcharge.

The council tax proposals come against a background of continued government austerity, with Greenwich saying it has lost over £1,000 per household in funding since 2010. Last week, a committee of councillors supported proposals to hike charges for social care users, despite residents telling them that it could cost lives.

“The economic realities of ten years of austerity are hitting us hard. The low hanging fruit has been well and truly picked, and now we’re going to have to make some increasingly tough decisions,” Thorpe said.

“We’re reshaping our adult social care services to provide the best outcomes for our residents, but this does not make up for the chronic lack of funding from the government. The government has repeatedly failed to deliver its long-promised green paper on social care, and the maximum council tax increase doesn’t come close to covering the year on year increases in demand.

“I would like as many residents as possible to tell us what they think about our spending priorities over the next two weeks, before we submit our final budget.”

Opposition leader Matt Hartley praised the cabinet member for finance, Christine Grice, for including the increase in council tax support.

He said: “I am thrilled that Greenwich residents on the lowest incomes will finally be lifted out of council tax altogether. This has formed the central part of the Conservative group’s budget proposals for the last two years and has been voted down twice – but we knew if we kept the pressure up Labour councillors would have to do the right thing in the end.

“I would like to congratulate Cllr Grice for making the right decision on improving the council tax support scheme. This move will also significantly reduce the use of bailiffs in our borough, which is another welcome reform that we have been pressing for.

“We will be carefully scrutinising the rest of Labour’s budget plans as an opposition group over the coming weeks. For now I would urge all residents to take part in the consultation so that they can have their say as decisions are made.”

The consultation is open now on the council website. Councillors will vote on the budget at the end of February.

Updated 7pm on Tuesday to include statement from Matt Hartley and add current parks budget.

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