Westminster is latest council to contemplate big council tax rise

By Adrian Zorzut, Local Democracy Reporter

Westminster City council said it is considering a council tax increase next year as part of efforts to plug a £48m budget blackhole.

Councillor David Boothroyd, who oversees the budget, said the move depended on whether the government reduces funding for the borough, which has seen its population drop.

The council has proposed raising council tax by 4.99 per cent this coming financial year and wants to hike up social housing rent by the maximum 7.7 per cent, council documents reveal.

Cllr Boothroyd said: “The council is obliged to set a balanced budget and council tax is part of that [however] we are committed to making the council tax as low as possible and we will continue with that commitment.”

The council is also looking to introduce £20m worth of savings to tackle the budget gap it said was being caused by persistently high inflation and a spike in demand for services like temporary accommodation, which is expected to cost £38m this coming financial year.

This includes ending the most expensive temporary accommodation, like some hotels, by March 2025, renegotiating contracts with service providers and investing in electric waste lorries to bring down the amount it spends on fuel.

Cllr Boothroyd said these changes won’t compromise service levels and brushed off calls from the opposition to freeze council tax this year.

He said: “The council literally has no choice but to cover that. If our costs increase and we have a legal obligation to support people in temporary accommodation and try to cut costs as efficiently as possible, that’s still £38m we could spend on other things or lower taxes with.

“I cannot see how the Conservatives can possibly find the £3m to freeze the council tax and call that a balanced budget.”

But opposition leader Paul Swaddle said: “Labour are wasting money on pet projects and schemes, and if instead they focused on delivering services well and improving efficiency then freezing council tax would be within their grasp.”

The council is under pressure from an increase in the number of asylum seekers who have left Home Office accommodation applying for help and the end of the Government-supported scheme for Ukrainian refugees.

Westminster City council leader Adam Hug, said: “In the heart of the capital, during a cost of living crisis, our housing supply is being pressured as never before.

“The number of available private rented homes is falling while rents rocket, creating a perfect storm, where local authorities are having to step in more often to prevent homelessness even as it is becoming ever more difficult to do so.

“We’ve seen the sharpest increase in demand for temporary accommodation yet over the last two years. Councils need more effective central government support to alleviate the pressure.”

Pictured top: Cllr David Boothroyd (Picture: WCC)

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