We have the first Council Assembly of 2008 tonight. Amongst the issues up for consideration are "Setting the Council Tax base" and a Labour motion on Decent Homes works in Southwark.
The Council Tax base is a decision about the percentage of Council Tax which we expect to collect in the next financial year. This informs the level of Council Tax which will be set next month. In an ideal world the Council would collect 100% of the Council Tax due from residents, but this never happens as people move away or simply will not pay. Despite orders against them, there is little that can be done in some cases. The report before us proposes a council tax collection rate of 96% - effectively writing off 4% of potential council tax revenue for next year. We think that Liberata, the company which is paid handsomely to collect our Council Tax can do better, and that we should set a target of 97%. I'll keep you posted on the result.
There have been reports in the local press in recent weeks that the Council faces a shortfall of £60 million plus in paying for works to bring our council housing up to the Government's 'Decent Homes' standard. I have even heard rumours that this figure is a gross underestimate and that the real shortfall is in excess of £300 million. This presents the Council with a huge problem, which will affect not only this administration, but the next one after the 2010 local elections.
With this in mind Labour have proposed a motion this evening to establish a cross-party working group to look at the financial problems facing Decent Homes in Southwark and to try and come up with a solution which is in the interests of all of the residents of the borough. I think that there are some issues where the public expect to see politicians working together to sort the problem out - and housing improvements in Southwark is just such an issue!
I honestly cannot see a problem with our proposal. But it will be opposed by the LibDems and Tories who have accused Labour of "playing politics" when the opposite is the truth! If our motion is being opposed because there is no funding shortfall, then I will be delighted and relieved. But I suspect that is not the case and the coalition running Southwark is simply too afraid to let us know the truth.
Anyway I hope they change their minds before this evening. Working together has to be in everyone's interests on this isssue and I am not sure that the public will understand a "yah boo" political approach from the Libs and Tories.