Barnet’s Labour Group has called on the Conservatives to scrap an “unfair” tax shake-up in a heated row over the council’s budget.

On Tuesday (March 5), Labour unveiled an alternative budget aimed at protecting people from changes to a council tax benefit scheme it says will disproportionately hit poorer households.

Labour’s budget also earmarks money for additional street cleansing and more affordable homes.

But the plans were rubbished by Conservative members, who claimed their own budget was fair and would protect and improve key services.

The administration’s budget includes a 2.99 per cent rise in core council tax – the first increase for nine years.

It also includes a new earnings-based banding system for council-tax support – a benefit scheme for low-income groups – that Labour claims will leave poorer people worse off.

Labour leader Cllr Barry Rawlings told the full council meeting the tax shake-up “will drive 19,146 working-age households deeper into poverty – including 9,400 families with children”.

He said: “The Barnet Conservatives are expecting some of the poorest residents in the borough to pay 231 per cent more council tax this year – but they won’t sweep their streets or collect their bins.

“This is the Tories’ idea of fairness – pay more money, but get fewer, worse services.

“The Tory budget is an attack on the working-age poor, many in poorly paid or part-time jobs, and mainly in poorer areas of the borough.”

Labour’s budget would save £2 million by cutting spending on senior management posts, agency staff and other items, such as free parking permits for councillors.

The Labour Group claims this would free up money to reduce the impact of the council tax support changes by 80 per cent, carry out a quarterly deep clean of the borough’s streets and provide genuinely affordable homes.

But council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius branded Labour’s budget a “complete cop out” and claimed it would not be possible to cut senior management posts.

He attacked national Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s support for Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and warned of a Labour government “imposing its will on the council”.

Cllr Cornelius said: “This Tory council has a record of success.

“We have efficient social services that are improving. We have lots of housebuilding, and we are reforming waste collection and street cleansing.

“We are holding Capita to account – commercial disputes have been settled and operating costs remain reduced.

“Services will improve as the years go ahead.

“The Conservative council has managed not to increase council tax for nine years.

“It is a great disappointment to me that we cannot do it this year and we have to increase it by 2.99 per cent, so I apologise to the public for that.”

Cllr Alison Moore, Labour member for East Finchley, accused the Conservatives of “seeking to balance your budget on the back of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the borough”.

She said the council tax support shake-up could end up costing the council more money on taking people to court because they are unable to pay their bills.

Cllr Moore said: “When you take into account housing costs, nearly 30 per cent of Barnet’s children are in poverty. In some wards, it is 40 per cent.

“This is not fair to children, families and the wider community. I urge councillors to vote with their consciences and support Labour’s amendment.”

But Cllr Dan Thomas, deputy leader of the council and Conservative member for Finchley Church End, said: “We can never be complacent about the effects savings have on residents, but neither should we believe that the solution to every problem is more money, higher taxes and for all services to be run by the state.

“We are reluctant to increase council tax but recognise that some services have unprecedented demand.

“Labour’s budget would reverse our reforms to council tax support, which they say would cause catastrophe.

“We have heard this before, and the doom and gloom never materialises. We do have a safety net in place and we are going to help people.”

After a lengthy debate, Labour’s budget amendment was voted down, and the Conservative administration’s budget was then approved.