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Liberal Democrats in Newcastle passed below inflation council taxes for seven years. Labour has raised them at twice the rate of inflation over the last 5 years.

March 3, 2021 8:27 PM

Cllr Greg Stone 2019Cllr Greg Stone, who speaks for Newcastle Liberal Democrats on transport issues, was reminded by Facebook it was ten years ago yesterday that the last Liberal Democrats budget was passed by the council, marking seven years of below inflation council tax rises.

He said "Tonight we are debating a council tax increase 7 times the current rate of inflation. Cllr Ali talks of Labour talking in this chamber to themselves. Perhaps they should talk to Cllr Forbes about his recent comments, which I think many citizens agree with. I quote.

"After the year we've had, more tax for reduced local services is not just the wrong policy, it is a slap in the face for everyone who has sacrificed so much in the national effort.

What we need is a bit of hope, a vision of a better future and a plan to get there. We have to come out of this stronger. We have to start afresh by building a better more ambitious [city] where everyone has the chance to get on. That should be where we set our sights. Asking people to pay more and get less does not sound like a useful part of that vision to me."

Those were the words of the leader of council just a few weeks ago. If this is what the leader believes, why is his administration doing the opposite? If they believe paying more and getting less is not a useful part of a vision for the city, why are they making it the foundation of their policy tonight?

The suspicion is the administration knows that it is an easier option for them to denounce the Government whilst making the taxpayers of Newcastle pay as much as they can squeeze out of them?

I think the party opposite knows that local government funding is broken and that council tax is a rotten and unequal system that hits those on low and fixed incomes hardest.

I think they know their administration is overseeing a budget that is fraying the connection between local council tax and the basic services that residents expect to breaking point.

It suits the Labour group's narrative to pretend there is no choice and there are no options. But a council with more vision, more responsive to the wishes of the public, more courage, more compassion does have options.

For a start, Labour has the option not to insult the bereaved by raising charges for live-streaming of funerals. Callously, it is choosing to do so.

If we accept, and I hope we all do, that the local government funding system is broken, and that the council tax system is broken. It would be honourable and more honest with the public to admit that the vast majority of the council tax residents pay is not going on the delivery of council services that they need and use. It goes not on maintaining their city but on maintaining this council and its interests.

It would be honourable and honest to be up front with them and admit that two thirds of their council tax goes on services, which we have a statutory obligation to provide. To tell them we need to ensure these services are there to meet the needs of those who need protection and help, but the council is unable to sustain them at their current level.

The leader could use his position as Labour leader in local government, and his influence with Keir Starmer to make a case for fundamental reform of local government funding and council tax. Instead he chooses to max the tax and blame the Tories.

An effective and far-sighted leader could take this opportunity to set out an agenda for reform. For a new settlement for social care, for a joint North of Tyne structure with the NHS for integrated care funded by a dedicated tax. For a fair and progressive system of local income tax. For new ways of raising revenue to create the better, more ambitious city he speaks of which cannot be delivered solely by always relying on more money from central Government, whatever political colour it is.

Amendment 2 is a revenue-raising measure that helps achieve the objectives of the council in reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality, and achieving Net Zero. One that Cllr Ainsley and Avery should bear in mind is under consideration by Leicester, Reading, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Hounslow and Camden - all Labour. It will enable investment in sustainable travel like electric park and ride services and better maintained roads and pavements, not gimmicks like e-scooters. Residents of the city have a right to expect this but there has been little or no maintenance, not even a condition inspection, across this city for years under this administration. I learn today that the council's backlog in road and pavement maintenance has risen from £116m to £184m since the last time they assessed it three years ago.

Amendment 2 starts to put that right. It will end this administration's disgraceful plans to charge disabled Blue Badge holders to park in the city's car parks. Charging for parking is not popular but we think it is preferable to charge those who choose to park in the city centre rather than use other forms of transport, than make everyone in the city pay more through their council tax.

We are giving the party opposite the chance to make a progressive step forward in raising the revenue the city needs to deliver the services it needs and the ambition it claims to set its sights to. We challenge them to take that step tonight.