A row has broken out over Barnet Council’s plans to help residents cope with the cost-of-living crisis by refunding a tax hike.

The Conservative opposition group has accused the Labour administration of breaking its pledge to refund a 1% increase in council tax after learning it will be deducted from residents’ bills next year.

But Labour has rejected the claims, insisting that the tax will be refunded in a “cost-efficient way” and that an extra support fund means the council is effectively doubling the financial help being provided to residents.

Barnet Labour’s local election manifesto pledged to refund a 1 per cent increase in a council tax precept used to support adult social care – which was approved by the then-Conservative administration in March for the current 2022/23 financial year – and to keep council tax low “going forward”. The tax pledges are designed to help residents deal with extra costs caused by soaring inflation.

But after learning during a policy and resources committee meeting last week that the refund would be enacted by deducting 1 per cent from council tax bills for the 2023/24 financial year, the Tories accused Labour of breaking their pledge.


Conservative group leader Cllr Dan Thomas said next year’s council tax increase had “not yet been confirmed, meaning that whatever percentage they [the Labour administration] choose to charge, they can claim includes the residents’ rebate”.

Cllr Thomas added: “This is a shameful sleight of hand by Labour councillors. Labour’s number one pledge to residents has been broken.

“At the same time, the Labour administration is ramping up spending on politicking at the council, spending over £150,000 a year on a ‘director of transformation’ to support their political agenda, and a ‘strategic political advisor’. How are they paying for this? By cutting services that improve our borough and increasing parking fees.

“During this cost-of-living crisis, the people of Barnet should have an administration committed to protecting their money, not increasing charges. Broken promises, tax and spend, same old Labour.”

Labour council leader Barry Rawlings hit back at the claims, branding them “extraordinary” given previous Conservative administrations had increased council tax by the legal maximum.

He added: “Having lost the council, the Tories are clutching at straws to find criticism. We promised the 1 per cent refund and residents will be receiving it in a cost-efficient way which allows for more money to be in the pockets of residents who need it the most.”

Cllr Rawlings said £2 million was now directly available to residents in financial crisis through a targeted residents’ support fund set up by the council, which is equivalent to 1 per cent of council tax. On top of that, he added, 1 per cent will be deducted from bills next year, bringing the total support for residents to £4 million.

The council leader said the administration had wanted to refund the tax increase sooner, but doing so “would cost the council taxpayer around £200,000 to administer as we would have to consult, re-bill and then refund”.

Cllr Rawlings said the administration had frozen charges where it could but councils across the country were having to make increases because of “rampant inflation”, which he claimed was a result of the Conservative government “crashing the economy”. He added that the council was investing money to reduce carbon emissions to net zero.

Reports presented to the policy and resources committee reveal Barnet Council is facing mounting budget pressures as its finances are squeezed by spiralling inflation and interest rate rises.

The council’s budget gap for 2023/24 before planned savings are taken into account is forecast at £19m under a “base case” scenario drawn up by finance chiefs. Under the worst-case scenario, this gap could be as high as £23 million.

In the current year, the forecast overspend on the budget has risen to £5.6 million. The council is expected to use £9.2 million of reserves and hopes to make savings of £7.4 million to make ends meet.

Most of the extra spending will be on the adults and health department, which according to the reports reflect “a level of increase in annual activity and unit cost”. The reports add that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the NHS means more people are becoming unwell and social care needs are becoming more complex.

Commenting on the figures, Cllr Rawlings said the “lack of certainty on funding from government was a “difficult backdrop to plan against” but added that the administration was “working with officers to deliver a balanced budget”. He claimed the council’s general reserves position “remains strong and is able to withstand any sudden shocks or changes in funding”.