The first rise in council tax in nearly a decade will help Barnet Council balance its books – on top of yet more budget cuts.

A 2.99 per cent hike in core council tax for 2019-20 will help raise a vital £178 million for the local authority that can be used to meet growing demand for services such as adult social care.

Coming on top of an extra tax levy by the Greater London Authority (GLA), it will push average band D bills in Barnet up by nearly £62 per year to £1,545.41.

Barnet has frozen core council tax for nine years – but bills have risen in recent years after it made use of a Government-approved tax levy to fund adult social care.

The tax rise was backed by more than half of those who took part in a public consultation on the budget plans, with just over a quarter opposed to the increase.

But with austerity measures set to continue, the council will have to make nearly £20 million of savings just to make ends meet in the coming financial year.

These include savings of more than £6 million to the adults and safeguarding budget; almost £4 million to children, education and libraries; and £4.6 million to the environment budget.

Despite these savings, the local authority will need to use £5.4 million from its reserves to plug the remaining budget gap.

The budget was approved by a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee yesterday (Wednesday, February 20).

Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius told the committee: “All councils have to balance their budgets by law, whatever their situation. We find ourselves in a situation of rising demand for young people’s services and adults’ services.

“We have pressure on money, in that we are finding things are costing us more each year, and we have to take money out of our budget to continue as we were.”

Cllr Alison Moore, Labour member for East Finchley, raised concerns about the management of the council’s pension fund, which is outsourced to Capita.

Cllr Moore warned of “a number of significant risks, all of which have budget implications”.

Capita made late payments of almost £2.4 million to the council pension fund in the 2017 and 2018 financial years.

Last year, Barnet Council reported itself to the pensions regulator for failing to produce 447 pension benefit statements on time – breaking a legal requirement.

Cllr Moore warned the council would be left to “pick up the tab” if the health of the pension fund were affected by some of the issues and asked for the service to be brought back in house.

Cllr Cornelius said: “It is more likely that if Capita do not put right this wrong, we would seek an alternative provider.

“But at the moment, Capita are working to put it right.”

Cllr Peter Zinkin, Conservative member for Childs Hill, added: “The problems with the pension fund are nothing to do with financial health.

“It is well run, well invested and makes appropriate returns. Over the last few years it has had an excellent investment record.

“What we are talking about is data quality – this does not change by one penny the health of the fund.”

Cllr Alan Schneiderman, Labour member for Woodhouse, said: “Is there not a concern about the level of reserves gradually being whittled down?

“Considering there has been a huge use of reserves over just a few years, it seems a bit rich to say that reserves have then been stabilised.”

Cllr Cornelius said: “If you do not want to use the reserves, what are you going to cut? If you don’t want to use reserves, you will have to make cuts.

“It is sustainable over the period.”

Kevin Bartle, the council’s director of finance, said the use of reserves “had to be looked at and monitored on an ongoing basis” and admitted there was “not much room for things to slip”.

Labour councillors proposed additional recommendations to the committee – including that the pension fund management be brought back in house.

Conservative members refused to back the Labour recommendations but agreed to look at whether pensions should be brought back under the council’s oversight.

Labour councillors opposed the budget recommendations and pledged to come up with their own alternative plans, which will be revealed in due course.

Conservative members voted in favour of the plans, which will now go to full council for approval.