This article was last updated at 13:15 pm on 8 March 2023. Mayor Perry’s budget was passed that evening after the Labour group eventually abstained.
Mayor of Croydon Jason Perry is to re-present the same budget proposals to Croydon councillors, including a council tax rise of 14.99 per cent, despite a meeting of the full council rejecting them last week.
In a formal statement to the council’s chief executive, Perry says the leader of the council’s opposition Labour group, Stuart King, “has suggested that an alternative plan must exist in order to balance the budget without a council tax rise. It does not”. He added: “The only other possible solution would be to borrow another #66m over the coming three years,’ which would saddle the Council with even more debt, even higher yearly payments to service the debt and repeat the mistakes of the past”.
Perry’s statement goes on to reject three specific suggestions he says Labour made, saying “these one-off proposals are not viable alternatives” and that this view has been confirmed by the relevant council officer.
Meetings were held earlier this week between the mayoral team and members of the 34-strong Labour group – the Town Hall’s largest, despite the Mayor being a Conservative – to discuss its suggestions for changing the proposals, but the Tories have not found any of them acceptable, arguing that reducing the size of the council tax hike would mean further cuts in services which cannot be funded in other ways.
There had previously been discussions with the two-member Green Party group, who have also put forward an amendment. That amendment will need a two-thirds majority to be carried in its own right tomorrow night. That is highly unlikely to be secured. In theory the Greens’ suggestions for revising the budget could have been incorporated before the second budget-setting meeting as part of a deal that would have entailed the Greens voting with the Tories to provide the simple majority required for that draft budget to pass. But that is not going to happen.
The same level of opposition to the re-presented proposals is expected, meaning they will again be supported by the 33 Tory councillors and the Mayor himself and rejected by the majority – the 34 Labour and two Greens and the sole Liberal Democrat.
What will happen? There is a legal requirement to set a budget by 11 March. Failure to do so means the council cannot collect council tax and makes councillors themselves liable for the council’s losses. Labour will be under great pressure to avoid that occurring. Abstaining, presumably under protest, is one option they have. Another theoretical possibility is that enough of them or members from the other two opposition parties give up and go home to eventually leave the Tories with a majority on the night.
The wider politics of this form part of the backdrop. Perry has been presenting himself as the straight-talking realist about Croydon’s difficult financial circumstances – “to protect vital services we have to find solutions even when they mean making tough decisions” – and Labour as lacking the bottle to sort out a mess that accumulated when they ran the council prior to Perry’s election last May. Jason Cummings, the council’s cabinet member for finance, says “there is only one option available”. In his judgement “no one has come up with a viable alternative to the 15 per cent council tax rise”.
But Labour is hoping to enhance its reputation among Croydon voters, and not only at borough level by saying the 15 per cent hike – which has required special dispensation from the government – is too much. The party’s London region has issued a statement from Ben Taylor, who is Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the Croydon South constituency, currently held by Tory Chris Philp, a government ultra-loyalist who strongly supported a switch to the directly elected mayor system of local government from which has produced Mayor Perry. Philp has a substantial but not impregnable majority of 12,339. “To return with the same rejected plans would represent an insult to the 25,000 local people who signed the petition against his unfair and unjust budget,” Taylor says.
That seems to be exactly what Perry plans to do, despite surely knowing he will have to give ground if a budget is to be set. Will that ground be conceded before tomorrow night’s meeting or will Croydon Town Hall become the stage for an extended political grandstanding competition before the seemingly unavoidable budget compromise is found?
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