Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, outlined Labour’s priorities at the Annual Budget meeting;
“We support a Council Tax freeze. Low and middle income Westminster residents have been hit hard enough by a Conservative Government and Conservative Council without piling on more pressure.
However, there is one group of residents who have voted to increase their Council Tax and they are the residents of Queen’s Park Ward who will be paying an average £44 a year extra so that they can have their own Community Council. This is a real vote of confidence in democracy, in localism and in the power of collective action. We are proud to be associated with this historic development and delighted to have been working alongside the Queen’s Park campaigners to help create this new democratic advance.
Queen’s Park residents now pay more in Council Tax than people in St John’s Wood or Marylebone or Soho or Belgravia.
First of all , I will set our priorities
First, tackling the cost of living crisis
• We would freeze the Council Tax and ensure that Council rents rise at no faster than inflation
• Make sure that the cost of school meals and sports and leisure charges rise by no more than inflation
• Keep the cost of a Residents’ Parking permit linked to inflation
Second, we would build more genuinely affordable homes
We would restore the Family Quota system to enable the sons and daughters of existing residents to live locally
We will tackle rogue private landlords and rip-off letting agencies through a registration and rigorous inspection regime. As in Newham, this would be a cost-neutral initiative.
Third, we would deliver high quality, value-for-money public services, including paying the London Living Wage to all staff working for Council contractors
Fourth, we would improve safety and security at home and on the streets
Fifth, we would deliver better services for children, teenagers and older people
The years ahead will be tough. There is no doubt about that. Less than half the cuts the Conservatives have in mind for us have so far been implemented. There is more pain on the way. But despite the financial crash caused by banking irresponsibility, some people have done very well and continue to do so.
And they come from all over the world to live in or buy property in Westminster. We should welcome these new residents and invite them to be fully involved members of the community.
I do believe that some residents in St John’s Wood or Marylebone or Soho or Belgravia want to make a bigger contribution to their community, whether it is their home community or their adopted community – and many are in the fortunate position to be able to do so. We support the introduction of additional higher end Council Tax Bands to enable the most fortunate to make a bigger contribution.
However we are also in favour of trying other ways of raising additional finance.
In other parts of the world, voluntary tax contributions are not new. A few years ago, Bogata’s Mayor asked citizens to contribute a voluntary 10% extra in tax – to which an astonishing 63,000 people agreed.
Research shows that the key is to earmark the extra revenue for a specific purpose or programme, say education, transport or safety. That, and providing a simple way for people to contribute more on top of their usual Council tax contributions, could unleash both a generosity and a commitment to improve local services.
So, accordingly, following the elections this May, if a Labour Council is elected, we will write to every G and H Band Council Tax payer in Westminster with a choice of five different projects to which they can contribute.
Between now and then, we will work closely with Westminster’s voluntary sector to identify the five projects which would receive the voluntary contributions.
We will also appoint a board composed of independent people from outside the Council whose job it will be to ensure that all the money is used on the five selected projects and not on mainstream Council services.
And, of course, Council Tax payers on lower bands will also be able to contribute. No one will be turned away. No contribution, however small, will be refused. We will take euros, dollars, un, roubles and we will even take pounds sterling.
To underline the independence of these voluntary contributions from mainstream Council funds, the letter to Council Tax payers will not come from me as Leader of the Council, but from the chair of the independent board, possibly the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols, if he would like to be involved.
This could make a big difference to getting new projects off the ground despite the financial cutbacks. I call on Conservative Councillors tonight to give their unequivocal backing to this initiative.
We do not have to run the Council as a car parking company. Westminster can do better than that. And Labour Councillors will, as usual, lead the way.”