Ealing Criticised for Raising Tax While Boosting Reserves

Budget sees new financial incentives for councillors to use bikes

Council leader Peter Mason riding his bike
Council leader Peter Mason riding his bike

March 4, 2022

Ealing Council has hiked council tax by the maximum amount after approving plans to let councillors make money riding their bikes.

As part of budget proposals for the coming financial year, Ealing Council voted to increase council tax charges by 2.99 per cent on 1 March.

Under the approved plans, council tax charges for average Band D properties will increase to £1,735.48 from £1,664.65 on 1 April.

The increase in council tax includes a 1 per cent contribution towards the adult social care precept.

Proposing the budget for 2022/23, Cllr Stephen Donnelly said, “[At the local elections] Labour will stand on our manifesto, on our record of achievement and on sound financial management exemplified before the council tonight.”

As part of the budget, councillors approved a move to transfer £3.5 million of funds into council reserves, to use in case of unprecedented circumstances. The Liberal Democrats on the council pointed out that there is also over £5million in accumulated fines from Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and other Streetspace measures that is unallocated and unspent in the council accounts.

Councillor Andrew Steed, the party’s spokesperson on financial matters said, “Liberal Democrats are seeing huge numbers of people having to pay more for their energy and food bills. We voted against the Council Tax rise as this tax rise will add more heartache to those suffering at the moment with the cost of living crisis. Liberal Democrats want to see a greater share of money being spent locally via ward forums where people can have more of a say on how the money is being spent.”

Criticising the proposal to bolster council reserves, Cllr Julian Gallant said, “This is a choice, not a matter of necessity. £3.5 million of the £4.6 million raised by this increase are not being earmarked for vital council services, rather they are being raised in the context of service cuts and net increases in charges like parking and garden waste collection.”

The council’s decision to charge residents more council tax came at the same time as plans were approved to allow councillors to continue to claim money for riding their bikes while on council business.

In plans voted through by the council, councillors will be able to submit expenses for travelling costs incurred while working for the council. This includes the ability for councillors to expense travel by bicycle, claiming back 20p for every mile travelled.

Councillors have been able to claim expenses for travelling by bike since at least 2015. According to the council, the ability to expense bike travel exists to incentivise councillors to travel in a more environmentally friendly way.

Ealing Council’s decision to pass this budget comes as the UK faces a cost of living crisis, with inflation, increases to the cost of food and energy and national tax hikes squeezing the wallets of many residents.

An Ealing Council spokesperson said, “Our records show that no councillors have claimed for this particular expense since the last local elections in 2018.

“The policy of allowing employees to claim for business travel undertaken by bike is consistent with large numbers of employers.

“The figure of 20p per mile is the HMRC approved rate, which helps to cover costs of maintenance, clothing, and the wear and tear of regular bike use.

“Encouraging everyone to cycle, walk and scoot for shorter journeys across the borough is a key priority for the council. “

Lisa Haseldine - Local Democracy Reporter