Budget approved by councillors amid row over spending plans

Heated debate at last full council election before May’s election, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre

Councillors in Enfield have agreed to freeze the core portion of council tax following a heated political row over spending plans.

Despite the freeze, council tax will still rise by £46.24 per year for an average Band D household in Enfield because of an agreed 1% rise in the local authority’s social care precept and an 8.8% rise in the Greater London Authority’s share of the bill.

The Conservative group backed the council tax plans but proposed a raft of changes to the budget they claimed would allow Enfield Council to improve frontline services and scrap low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

Members of the Labour administration rejected their plans, disputing the Tories’ figures and insisting their budget would protect the borough’s most vulnerable residents.

The clash came during a meeting of the full council on Thursday, where members discussed the authority’s budget for the 2022/23 financial year along with its ten-year capital programme. It was the last full council meeting scheduled to take place before local elections in May.

Cabinet member for finance Mary Maguire said the “key principles” that informed the budget proposed by the Labour administration included protecting the most vulnerable residents, investing in children’s futures and making the borough more equal.

She told the meeting £7.8million of additional resources had gone into children’s and adults’ social care, while the freeze on core council tax would help residents facing a “cost of living crisis”.

Following Cllr Maguire’s speech, the Conservative group moved their amendments to the budget and capital programme, which they claimed would make Enfield “cleaner, greener and safer”.

The main opposition group proposed investing £1.4m per year to restore weekly bin collections, £375,000 to install 100 cameras to catch fly-tippers, and £1.1m to plant 3,000 street trees. It also proposed using £1.4m to remove the LTNs in Bowes Park and Fox Lane and £48,000 to bring back school crossing patrols.

According to the proposed amendments, the extra investment would be paid for partly by outsourcing the communications team and cleaning services, scrapping investment in HR staff and reducing some allowances paid to councillors. The Tories also wanted to save £13m by scrapping improvements to the civic centre.

Conservative leader Joanne Laban said: “Unlike the party opposite, we have been listening to local residents. They want a borough that is cleaner, greener and safer, and this amendment will help to deliver it.”

James Hockney, shadow cabinet member for finance, told the meeting the Tories would not go ahead with increases on fees for graves and funerals that were proposed in the Labour administration’s budget.

The Conservatives said their amendment had been signed off by the council’s chief finance officer, but Labour disputed their figures. Cllr Maguire branded the Tory proposals “nothing but populist short-termism” with “no thought about what is sustainable”.

Rick Jewell, cabinet member for environment, claimed it would cost around £5m to bring back weekly bin rounds, rather than the £1.4m figure for the full year proposed by the Tories. He added that the cost of the extra CCTV cameras would be “more than double” the figure presented in the Tory proposal.

The Conservative amendments were defeated, with Labour voting against and Community First abstaining.

Members of the Community First group, made up of seven ex-Labour councillors, criticised the Labour administration’s budget. Leader Dinah Barry, an independent councillor, slammed plans to increase burial costs and a rise in council debt. Describing it as “a budget of cuts hidden under wooly words”, Liberal Democrat Ayfer Orhan said the 1% rise in the adult social care council tax precept would push more families into poverty.

Tory opposition councillors criticised Labour for rejecting their amendments and welcomed increased funding from the government in some areas, including education. Terry Neville raised the alarm over 15 pages of risks identified by financial advisors relating to the budget that could lead to a shortage of funds.

Labour councillors defended their plans. Birsen Demirel said the budget would help “every resident with this cost of living crisis, which has been caused by the horrendous policies of this Tory government”, adding that the extra investment in social services would support the elderly, disabled and children with special needs.

Deputy leader Ian Barnes said the council was investing in measures to protect people against climate change, which would “affect the most vulnerable in our borough”, including a further four park wetland schemes and 1,000 new street trees, which he said would mainly be planted in the east of the borough.

Council leader Nesil Caliskan said: “We are investing in adult social care and children’s services, and we are introducing important things like free bulky waste collections. The budget is resilient, it is responsible, it is fair, and we are confident about our borrowing exaxctly because of the resilience we have built into our budget.”

Labour’s budget was approved, despite the Conservatives opposing most of the proposals and Community First abstaining. Later, Labour members voted for the administration’s capital programme, with both opposition groups voting against.