WANDSWORTH COUNCIL LOSES £500,000 GAMBLE OVER TAX FREEZE GRANT

Rex 10Nov13
Rex Osborn: Labour Group leader

Tory-run Wandsworth Council has been left with an unexpected half a million pound hole in its budgets, after Secretary of State Eric Pickles refused to pay a council tax freeze grant to the authority.

Wandsworth Tories raised the Borough’s Council Tax by more than 3% last April, but gambled on using a loophole to still qualify for the government’s council tax freeze grant – worth £492,000.

But it has now emerged that Eric Pickles’ Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) refused to pay the grant.

Cllr Rex Osborn, leader of the Wandsworth Labour Group, said: “It’s bad enough that the Tories chose to make Wandsworth one of the only Councils in the country to raise Council Tax last year – at a time when residents could least afford it. But it’s beyond belief that they would also try to pull the wool over the eyes of their own Secretary of State, claiming that a 3% rise in council tax should still leave them qualifying for the Council tax freeze grant. Wandsworth’s Tories have gambled with taxpayers’ money and lost almost half a million pounds.

“Labour voted to freeze the Council Tax last year, and is committed to keeping taxes low in Wandsworth. That’s why we’ve appointed an independent Commission of local authority finance experts to come up with some sensible ways to protect frontline services and keep Council Tax low – two key challenges that the Tories have failed to meet. In this climate, we need a steady hand overseeing the coffers in Wandsworth, not a party who takes gambles with taxpayers’ money.”

Wandsworth Labour councillors launched their independent Commission last month. The Commission is chaired by Michael Ward, former Chief Executive of the London Development Agency, who is a long-term Wandsworth resident with more than 30 years’ experience in local government, as an officer, an elected member, and a researcher.

Michael is joined on the Commission by Martin Pilgrim, former Chief Executive of London Councils; Gareth Daniel, former Chief Executive of Brent Council; Stephanie Elsy, former Leader of Southwark Council; and George Kessler, Joint Managing Director of a London manufacturing business and a member of London First, the influential business organisation representing London’s leading employers.

Read more here:

http://www.wandsworthguardian.co.uk/archive/2014/01/22/10953858.Council_left_with___500_000_budget_black_hole_after_tax__gamble__backfires/

 

WANDSWORTH LABOUR LAUNCHES LOW COUNCIL TAX COMMISSION

Labour councillors in Wandsworth have launched an independent commission of local government finance and business experts from across London, to uncover fresh ways to keep council tax low in the Borough while maintaining crucial frontline services.
Wandsworth labour
The commission will be chaired by Michael Ward, former Chief Executive of the London Development Agency, who is a long-term Wandsworth resident with more than 30 years’ experience in local government, as an officer, an elected member, and a researcher.
The commission’s report will be independent of the Wandsworth Labour Group and the Wandsworth Labour Parties.

Michael will be joined on the commission by Martin Pilgrim, former Chief Executive of London Councils; Gareth Daniel, former Chief Executive of Brent Council; Stephanie Elsy, former Leader of Southwark Council; and George Kessler, Joint Managing Director of a London manufacturing business and a member of London First, the influential business organisation representing London’s leading employers.

Heavy cuts from the Tory-led Government have put local authority budgets under severe pressure since 2010. But Labour Councillors suspect that Wandsworth’s Tory Council no longer has a convincing long term strategic vision for the Borough, preferring to pursue damaging and penny-pinching savings.

The commission will produce its report in Spring 2014.

Councillor Rex Osborn, Leader of the Wandsworth Labour Group, said: “The Tory-led Government has imposed the biggest squeeze in history on local authority budgets, leaving local councillors with difficult choices to make. However, unlike Wandsworth Tories, who have demonstrated the wrong priorities – cutting back frontline services and toying with charging children to pay to use the Borough’s playgrounds – Labour believes there are better ways to balance the books and keep council tax low without penalising residents.

“That’s why I’ve asked an independent commission of local government and business experts to identify fairer ways to make the necessary savings. When voters go to the polls next May for the council elections, we will offer them a clear choice –more of the same from the Wandsworth Tories, or a fresh, fair approach from Labour, which will keep the council tax low.”

Michael Ward, chair of the commission, said: “I’ve lived in Wandsworth for a total of 28 years, and am excited to be embarking on a project that could have a real impact on the lives of Wandsworth residents. I’ve warned Rex Osborn and his Labour team that there are no easy answers, but I hope that our report will provide some new thinking and some genuine alternatives for local residents to consider.”

The Commission’s Terms of Reference are:

“To examine Wandsworth’s revenue and capital budget.

This should include:

  • forecasting trends in the balance sheet
  • examining the Council’s treatment by central government in the allocation of grant
  • reviewing the Council’s policy on, and use of, reserves
  • reviewing the policy on user charging
  • reviewing the relationship between the budget and the Housing Revenue Account
  • making recommendations for an alternative budget, structured according to clear principles and priorities making recommendations on improving the management of the budget.”

Michael Ward is a researcher and consultant on economic and social policy. From 2000 to 2004 he was Chief Executive of the London Development Agency, the London Mayor’s agency for business and jobs. In the 1970s he was a Wandsworth Councillor, and in the 1980s Deputy Leader of the GLC. He and his family live in Furzedown, Wandsworth.

Martin Pilgrim has spent most of his 39-year career working for bodies representing local government. His last job before retirement was Chief Executive of London Councils, the body which brings together London’s local authorities. Martin is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and has a Master’s degree in management from the University of Kent.

Stephanie Elsy has 30 years’ experience working at a senior level across the public, private and charity sectors. She is a former Leader of Southwark Council, and spent nine years as director of external affairs at Serco, which holds a large number of contracts with local authorities across the country.

Gareth Daniel has worked in London local government for more than three decades and served as Brent Council’s longest-serving Chief Executive from 1998–2012. A resident of Ealing in West London, he is a qualified social worker by background. He has also served as a councillor on the GLC and was chair of Ealing Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee for four years. He now runs his own management consultancy undertaking change management and partnership development projects across the country.

George Kessler is Joint Deputy Chairman of Kesslers International Limited, a London based manufacturing business employing an ethnically diverse multi-skilled workforce of 300. Kesslers are Europe’s leading designers and manufacturers of permanent Point of Purchase Display. George is also a member of London First, Made in London, London Economic Panel and EEF’s Economic Policy Committee as well as being Chair of EEF’s London region
.