Aspire’s budget 2023/24 passes
The Aspire administration’s budget for 2023/24 has passed, and they did not accept any of the opposition amendments made by the Green, Labour or Conservative parties.
Watch the council meeting online
All council meetings are available to watch online and are open to the press and public. This meeting is available to watch here: https://towerhamlets.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/733250
The agenda, budget and opposition amendments are available to read on the council’s website here: http://democracy.towerhamlets.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=309&MId=13184
What is in the Aspire budget?
This budget is the new administration’s first opportunity to set out concretely how they will spend council resources over their 4-year term. The Aspire Party has gone bold, using much of the council’s substantial reserves which had been built up by the previous Labour administration.
Headlines in the budget include:
- £5.7m to becoming the first council in the country to provide universal free school meals for all pupils
- £2.5m to support free Homecare for vulnerable adults
- £8.5m investment to transform youth services
- £7m capital funding for electric waste vehicles and EV charging points and £180k annual revenue funding for low carbon fuel
As has been pointed out numerous times by commentators, this budget is somewhat of a high-risk budget. It draws down nearly £22 million from the council’s reserves in order to balance this year, and will require the council to make savings of £30 million in the next financial year in order to balance properly. This will be no small feat. Many people in the council, myself included, worry that this level of savings are not achievable and we may end up in a very critical financial situation.
Further concerns which I raised were:
- the considerable rise in spending on the Mayor’s casework team which is not matched by the spending on the front-line support staff at the new resident hub at the new Town Hall.
- the extortionate and unaffordable 7% rise in social rents for those in council housing.
- little mention of active travel, and instead, we are missing out on £10 million of TfL funding for transport schemes because the administration are sending all the wrong signals to TfL.
Green Party amendment
While there was a lot that I agreed with in the council’s budget, there were significant areas that were not given the attention they deserved. I therefore submitted a budget amendment which sadly (but predictably) did not pass. In my amendment, I proposed the following:
- Increase residential car parking charges in line with the CPRE London Parking Policy Benchmark Assessment Tool. They recommend a minimum charge of £150 per year. If applied to Tower Hamlets’ Parking permits, this would raise £12.5 million per year for the council.
- I then proposed several ideas of how to spend this money:
- Expand the council tax reduction scheme to include more households.
- Dramatically increase the number of bike parking spaces across the borough, both on-street and on estate land.
I also provided some commentary on this amendment:
“It is generally agreed that we are facing a climate and ecological crisis, as well as an air pollution crisis here in inner-London. The continued reliance of residents on cars to travel around the borough is contributing to these problems and should be actively disincentivised by the council. In addition, cars take up space which has a physical impact on our public realm. Given that space comes at a premium in Tower Hamlets, it is only just that car owners and drivers are prepared to contribute to the social cost of their car use on the general public. Currently, the charges to park a car in Tower Hamlets are relatively low and do not reflect the true cost of cars on our community. Therefore, I have used a calculation developed by the Countryside Charity (CPRE London) which calculates the cost of parking in relation to the cost of real estate values in London. Using this calculation, we generate significantly more revenue for the council than we are currently getting from parking charges.
I have considered how we might use the difference to give back to the most vulnerable in our society and tackle climate issues at the same time. The proposals below do not come close to using the full amount generated, therefore it is clear just how much revenue the council is missing out on by significantly under-charging for parking in the borough.”