Council budgets and Conservative taxes, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 2nd February 2022

This evening, Cabinet will be meeting to agree the draft 2022/23 budget we will be sending to Full Council for approval in three weeks’ time. I’m pleased to confirm that in a return to form, the draft budget delivers long-term financial sustainability without requiring cuts, the same as every budget passed in my time as Leader with the exception of the savings COVID forced upon us in last year’s budget.

With inflation running at 7%, Crawley Borough Council’s proposed council tax for next year will provide a real-terms cut, with an increase of just 2.31% or £4.95 over the whole year. However, even though we’re responsible for collecting all of it, Crawley’s portion makes up just 11% of your council tax bill, with a further 11% going to the Police and Crime Commissioner and a whopping 78% going to West Sussex County Council. It’s proposed those parts of your bill go up by £10 (4.65%) and £45.21 (2.99%) respectively.

Even with a real terms cut, I know that when people are struggling to pay for essentials, any increase in council tax hurts. Unfortunately, it’s a zero-sum game and with the council having to pay for services with a third of the income we had under the last Labour Government, however dishonestly the Conservatives present the figures, we either have to cut services or raise more money to pay for them. Despite the enormous pressure created by the pandemic, we’ve preserved the council tax reduction scheme for those on the lowest incomes, but that money only goes so far and the numbers struggling are far greater.

All of which reflects the ongoing trend we’ve seen in funding for public services under the Conservatives, as services are both starved of funding and taxation shifted from income tax, where people’s tax rate is based on what they can afford, and towards taxation largely disconnected from people’s ability to pay. For all the Conservatives’ hand wringing over the cost of living crisis, their own tax policy is giving tax relief to the wealthy while applying the greatest pressure to struggling families. It’s not right.

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