Liz Truss attacked by Labour administration as 5% council tax rise approved

Conservatives accuse Labour of ‘fiscal arson’ during budget debate at Enfield Civic Centre, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre and (inset) Liz Truss looking sad
Enfield Civic Centre and (inset) former PM Liz Truss

Labour councillors have blamed the Conservative government for having to increase Enfield’s council tax from April – while the Tories accused the civic centre of “fiscal arson”.

Council tax will rise by almost 5% in Enfield this year after the hike was approved during full council on Thursday (23rd) following a fierce political debate.

A 2.99% rise in core council tax was backed by members of the Labour administration as part of the 2023/24 budget, with the Conservatives voting against. Both groups supported the proposed 2% increase in the council tax levy, or ‘precept’, used to fund adult social care.

The budget also includes £15.9million of savings, as a report states that increases in government grants are not enough to cover inflation costs of £21.9m coming on top of £6.8m of extra spending needed to cope with growing demographic pressures.

Members of the Labour administration took aim at the Conservative government, blaming austerity measures, economic mismanagement and a failure to fund local government for the challenges faced by the council.

Conservative opposition councillors attacked the council for piling up debt and making cuts to frontline services, accusing the administration of “soaking the poor”.

Tim Leaver, cabinet member for finance, said “twelve years of Tory austerity” had cut funding for Enfield Council by 60% and led to underinvestment in schools and the NHS. He also said the council had been hit by “dismal economic growth” and the Covid-19 pandemic, before the Liz Truss government caused “havoc to the economy” leading to higher interest rates, inflation and a “lack of stability”.

Cllr Leaver added that the council’s ability to plan for the future was being undermined by the government’s “lack of willingness to provide either a fair funding settlement or more than a single year’s funding commitments”.

Despite this, he pointed out that the council’s chief finance officer had described the budget as robust and claimed it would deliver on Labour’s manifesto commitments.

Conservative James Hockney, shadow cabinet member for finance, said plans to repay debt had been scrapped by the current administration, with “£3m coming out of frontline services” last month to pay for interest charges. He claimed there would be “devastating cuts” to frontline services during the coming financial year because of interest and debt payments.

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Cllr Hockney said that despite getting extra grant funding from the government, the council sought to “pile the pressure onto our residents through tax increases”.

He also criticised “wasteful spending” – citing £600,000 spent on furniture during the last two years – and increases to fees and charges.

Council leader Nesil Caliskan listed some of the council’s spending plans, including proposals to invest £1m in creating new wetlands, £500,000 in planting street trees, £2.4m in community law enforcement teams and a “record” amount in adult social care.

Cllr Caliskan said: “We do it because we have to, because their [Conservative] government has let everyone down nationally and locally, in Enfield. We do it even though our budgets are difficult. We do it at a time when we faced a budget gap anyway – but an additional £21m budget gap because Liz Truss crashed the economy [and] we are experiencing record inflation and interest rates.”

Conservative leader Alessandro Georgiou accused the Labour administration of “putting their grubby hands deeper into the pockets of our residents because they are fiscal arsonists”. He claimed the 2.99% increase in core council tax was down to “reckless spending” by the administration.

Cllr Georgiou slammed “sickening” cuts to the council tax support scheme set to affect “over 6,500 of the poorest across Enfield that need our help the most”. He said the council was spending money on interest payments “because it has taken £500m of borrowed money to build not a single property at Meridian Water”.

Conservative Mike Rye said the Labour Party had departed from its usual policies. He told the meeting: “Normally you think of the Labour Party as very keen on soaking the rich. On this occasion they are soaking the poor, because every charge that they can find, they have increased.”

Council tax and fees and charges were going up, Cllr Rye pointed out, including bin charges, controlled parking zone (CPZ) charges and council rents.

But Labour councillors insisted the budget was designed to protect the most vulnerable residents. Mahmut Aksanoglu said: “We as a Labour council have put together a package of support to ensure residents are protected and helped during the ongoing cost of living crisis.”

Cllr Aksanoglu said the “generous” £38m council tax support scheme was “helping those in need the most”, adding that the authority was continuing to invest in initiatives such as new wetlands, free swimming lessons for children and affordable homes.

Labour members voted in favour of all of the budget recommendations. The Conservatives voted in favour of the 2% rise in the adult social care precept, against the 2.99% core council tax hike, and abstained on the remaining recommendations.

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