BY JAMES TWOMEY
A town hall hiked council tax rates last week amid criticism from opposition councillors that it did not address the housing crisis.
Bexley council confirmed its budget for 2019/20, announcing a 4.99 per cent rise in council tax – which includes a two per cent social care levy.
This means that Bexley residents in a typical Band D property will see their council tax bill increase from £1,599 to £1,678.88 a year.
The council also announced £6 million in cuts, but claims this will have no direct impact on local people.
Leader of the council, Teresa O’Neill, said: “The increase in council tax is higher than we would like, but it reflects the need to maintain vital local services in the face of a range of financial challenges.
“We would always love more money. We haven’t got enough money from the government and we are consulting with them about the costs of the local council. We need to live within our means.
“We are going to take services and turn them on their head. Our adult social care changes will keep people out of hospitals. We have had a reduction in government grants but an increase in demand for adult and child social care.
“We continue to work hard to find new and better ways to do things, and plan ahead to ensure we get maximum value from the money we spend.”
Labour councillors tabled a motion at the meeting to amend the budget, asking for £1.459 million of unspent funds that had been provided by property developers to be be spent on social housing.
Cllr Joe Ferreira, shadow cabinet member for growth, said: “Bexley’s Tories have delivered a housing crisis through their approval of a number of large developments with no social homes. While the council is having to plough millions into temporary accommodation, it is a scandal that monies given to us to provide new homes have sat in the bank in some cases since 2016.”
The Labour opposition also said that the council had pursued housing schemes that offered no affordable housing units. Cllr Daniel Francis, Leader of the Labour Group, said: “Despite the Prime Minister’s claims, it is clear that austerity is far from over.
“In his role as Secretary of State for Local Government, the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup is forcing councils to raise council tax while cutting services through the Government’s funding settlement to local councils.
“Our amendment asked the council to stand up for Bexley residents rather than the Tory Government, and we were disappointed to see Tory councillors refuse to fight for additional monies for services for our most vulnerable residents.”
Cllr O’Neill said: “We want to look at housing as a whole issue. We are encouraging builds of the right type of properties for our residents to move into.”