Councillors approve council tax rise after budget debate
Councillors continued to row over parks, green spaces and climate change during a debate on Barnet Council’s budget.
Conservatives outlined the support they were providing to residents and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic – including an extra £1million to help low-income families with their council tax.
But opposition Labour leader Barry Rawlings told the Tories it was time they “woke up and smelt the Fairtrade coffee” as he urged greater action to protect the environment.
The council’s budget for the coming financial year, approved at the full council meeting on Tuesday, includes a 1.99% rise in core council tax and a 3% increase in a levy used to fund adult social care.
Council leader Dan Thomas told the meeting: “We will continue to invest in the borough and do what is best for residents and taxpayers.
“Increasing council tax is not a decision we have taken lightly. It remains lower than our neighbours, and we will always continue to seek value for money. We will be the best borough in London to live, work and study in.”
Barnet’s Labour group presented an alternative budget they said would scrap plans for solar farms on open spaces, set up an investment fund to tackle climate change and put more money into clean-ups of streets and green spaces – including Welsh Harp Reservoir.
This would largely be funded by reducing agency staff, merging some committees and cutting the amount spent on senior management.
Cllr Rawlings claimed the plans would “provide hope for a better and greener future”. He said: “There is a climate emergency, and we have a duty to future generations of Barnet residents to deal with it.”
Labour environment spokesperson Alan Schneiderman said their budget would “stop the Barnet Tory plan to restrict access to so-called low-value, low-quality open spaces”.
The council’s savings proposals include a “review of [the] feasibility of installing renewable energy solutions such as batteries at substations and solar farms”.
But Tory environment committee chair Dean Cohen said Labour had “dreamt up” the idea that the administration planned to build on parks and open spaces.
“There has been no policy change since the parks and open spaces strategy in 2016,” he said. “It was the same opposition back then. Did they oppose it? No, they did not.”
The Liberal Democrats also pledged to ditch plans for solar farms in green spaces, set out plans to bring forward spending on roads and footpaths and said they would make “full use” of grants for cycle lanes provided by the government and Transport for London.
Lib Dem leader Gabriel Rozenberg said: “I urge you to back the Liberal Democrat amendments to ensure we will build back better and enjoy a green recovery in Barnet.”
Responding to the opposition speeches, Cllr Thomas accused Labour of being “out of touch” and said they were “resorting to desperate claims about building on parks and open spaces” because they are behind in the polls.
He added: “I am proud of what the council has achieved in the last year, and I look forward to this budget and our corporate plan supporting the people and businesses of Barnet as we make a rapid recovery from the pandemic.”
The Tories and Lib Dems voted against Labour’s alternative budget. The Conservatives also voted against the Lib Dem budget, with Labour abstaining.
The original budget was then passed on the back of Tory votes, with the opposition groups voting against.