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One per cent council tax cut as new budget is set
Council tax in Barnet will be cut by one per cent after the Conservative-run authority had its budget voted through tonight.
Residents in Barnet will see the reduction from April 2014, with plans to freeze council tax in 2015/16 and 2016/17.
Speaking in favour of the reduction, Barnet Borough Council leader Councillor Richard Cornelius told tonight’s full council meeting about further plans to save £39million in the budget over the next two years.
He praised the controversial One Barnet outsourcing project, and said the Conservatives have already cut £1.1million from senior management costs and axed 130 jobs.
Cllr Cornelius congratulated Barnet schools on being “the best in the country” and commended regeneration schemes across the borough including Brent Cross and Dollis Valley.
In its alternative budget, the Labour group also pitched for a one per cent cut in council tax despite previously criticising the Tories for using it as a “political stunt”.
Defending her party’s U-turn, Labour group leader Cllr Alison Moore explained: “We recognise that council tax is a big bill for households, and when people are struggling we must do all we can to help them.
“It’s also a budget envelope that we’ll inherit.”
Cllr Moore also put forward proposals to introduce an independent fairness commission to make Barnet "a fairer place for all", film webcasts of all council meetings, and introduce free 30 minutes of parking in town centres.
She said: “We would also implement free parking at weekends in December every year to give traders and our town centres a real boost in the run-up to Christmas.”
The Labour party suggested it would bring back cash parking, and introduce an Oyster-style Barnet card as an alternative payment method.
The party also set aside £4million in this year’s budget amendment to tackle the borough’s “housing crisis”.
Cllr Moore said: “The average price of a house in Barnet is nearly half a million pounds – ordinary people just cannot afford to buy or rent.”
The Liberal Democrats meanwhile, mocked both the Conservatives and Labour over their plans to cut council tax.
Group leader Cllr Jack Cohen said: “I thought it was a gimmick. I now call it reckless.
“We’ve been told there will be a £70million shortfall in council finances and the council will be left with no option but to increase council tax by at least two per cent by 2015.
“A cut this year is simply unsustainable.”
Cllr Cohen went on to propose 30 minutes' free parking in town centres and at Christmas, and “popular neighbourhood wardens” which he said would help keep streets clean and save the council money in the long run.
He also proposed to freeze funds for children’s services and libraries and make councillors pay for parking permits.
Finally, Independent councillor Brian Coleman put forward his proposal to reduce council tax by two per cent, axe the role of the council's chief executive, and turn off street lights between midnight and 5am on smaller roads.
He too failed to understand Labour’s decision over council tax. He said: “I have to say I am completely staggered by Labour’s amendment – it’s the height of hypocrisy to accept the one per cent cut.”
All three amendments were lost in a full council vote, with the Conservative majority voting in favour of its own budget.
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