Croydon Council has announced that Council Tax bills will increase by less than 3 per cent in April, the lowest increase for seven years. A typical family living in a Band D home will pay just 81p a week more.
With everyone feeling the pinch financially, we would have liked to have been able to reduce bills. Unfortunately the current economic climate impacts on the Council's finances just as much as yours and mine (to give a few examples, it is dealing with more benefit and homelessness applications and its income from things like land searches, which have been hit by collapse in property market, is also affected). In addition, the Council has once again received the lowest increase in Government grant of any council in the country.
Within a very tight budget, we have found some extra money for the services that people have told us are their priorities like improving standards in our schools, recycling and the area for which I am responsible, tackling crime and fear of crime, where we will be:
- opening a specialist Turnaround Centre to keep young people at risk of getting involved in violent crime out of trouble;
- increasing investment in the Youth Offending Team that works with young offenders;
- deploying a new state-of-the-art mobile CCTV vehicle; and
- launching a five-year programme to upgrade street lighting right across the borough.
Some people feel they don't get great value for money for their Council Tax. Quite a high proportion of the money raised is spent on a relatively small number of vulnerable children and adults so its understandable that some people feel that they pay a lot but don’t get that much back. On the other hand, it’s good to know that if someone in your family developed dementia or had a child with severe learning difficulties there would be services available to support them.
In addition, the Council needs to do a better job of telling people just how many of the services they depend on it is responsible for. I often have conversations with residents that bear an uncanny resemblance to the famous "What have the Romans ever done for us?" Monty Python sketch ("Well, the Council is responsible for cleaning your streets, determining most planning applications, residential and nursing care for the elderly, the library service, collecting and dealing with your rubbish and material for recycling, parks and green spaces, council housing, maintaining the roads and pavements apart from the three trunk roads, trading standards, child protection, streetlighting, licensing, housing the homeless, building control, processing applications for Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefit...).
What is indisputable is that the Council provides better value for money today than it did a few years ago. For the third year in succession, we have delivered a record level of efficiency savings. A recent study showed that Croydon is now the sixth most efficient council in London and we intend to do even better in the future. You should expect nothing less - after all, it is your money that the Council spends, something I and my colleagues never lose sight of.