This week’s council meeting confirmed that residents in Richmond Borough will see their council tax rise by 5.76%, by far the largest increase since the Liberal Democrats were last in charge of the council. Despite Liberal Democrat claims of a ‘fairer’ budget which is ‘affordable for all’ in Richmond Borough, they have agreed to push up Council Tax to the maximum, and at the same time have increased charges far above inflation. They have also put off making unidentified efficiency savings until ‘further down the track’ – slow to act on making savings when they can spend your money first.
Unlike the innovative and substantial efficiency savings found under the Conservative Administration, such as combining staffing with Wandsworth to save Richmond residents £10m a year, the current Lib Dem council can find no better solution than charging residents who have to depend on their cars to travel to work, shopping, and transporting their families around. More than 80% of new Lib Dem "savings" initiatives are actually charges on those residents, to the tune of more than £2m a year extra, irrespective of the level of pollution from their vehicle. Meanwhile they offer no new investment in public transport, which they have promised to improve, especially in areas like Whitton, Heathfield, and Hampton which is not as well served as other areas.
Between 2010 and 2018 the Conservatives froze Council Tax for 6 out of 8 years. In the two years they had to increase it, they kept it to the minimum. The Lib Dems' maximum legal increase is unnecessary, especially when efficiency savings are really just charges, where money is wasted on consultations which when the responses are inconvenient they are ignored, and where our residents, but not councillors, are expected to bear the burden.
Cllr Aphra Brandreth, the Conservative Group spokesperson on Finance said, “This is an underwhelming budget from the Liberal Democrat administration, who despite 8 years in opposition to come up with fresh ideas, have resorted to pushing up Council Tax to the maximum allowed, increased charges way above inflation, whilst introducing charges for Special Educational Needs Transport which will impact some of the most vulnerable in our community. This is not a ‘fairer’ budget and it certainly isn’t ‘affordable for all’.”
Cllr Paul Hodgins, Leader of the Conservative Group said, "I know that Brexit played a major role in the elections last year, as well as other national factors. But this is proof of what happens when the Lib Dems are put in charge of the Council, as we warned at the time. Who runs the council matters to the day to day lives of residents.
"They have raised Council Tax by the maximum legal amount. They have wasted well into seven figures, costing residents across the borough on simply discarding consultants reports which they then ignore such as on Turing House, having done a consultation on 20mph which proved pointless because they ignored it anyway, and their main so called efficiency savings are increased charges on residents.
"At the same time, while both residents and council officers have been asked to tighten their belts, in the current Electoral Commission review the Liberal Democrats have rejected the Conservatives' proposal for reducing the number of councillors on Richmond Council from 54 to 45, a more than reasonable proposal for showing that we councillors can also be more efficient. The Lib Dems protest nervously that councillors work hard and could not possibly do things more efficiently. I think our residents who have been feeling the pinch for years, more so after this Lib Dem budget, will find that a bitter pill to swallow and frankly won't believe it."