|'I'm Proud of What Labour's Achieved'|
Says Council Leader Julian Bell in his last column before election
In the run up to the Council elections in 2010 Ealing Labour promised to freeze Council Tax in the first year and keep it as low as possible thereafter. Four years later I am proud to report, and your Council Tax bills that you have just received will confirm it, that we under promised and have over delivered with four years of a continuous Council Tax freeze.
We have kept your Council Tax bills at the same level as when we were elected into office in May 2010 and in real terms this has saved the average family in the Borough £372. With the cost of living crisis pressing down on local families through stagnant wages and rocketing household bills the Council Tax freeze is crucial help for everyone in Ealing trying to make ends meet.
Freezing Council Tax for four years has not been easy. Don't let the local Tories have you believe that their government has paid for this. They have not. The Council Tax freeze subsidy still left us over £7m short over the period and the Council has also had unprecedented levels of cuts to its budgets during this time - £87m or over 30% of our controllable budget has been slashed from our finances by the Tory led government.
We have consequently had to take some difficult decisions but despite these huge cuts to our budgets we have managed to protect most frontline services and prioritised preserving the help we provide to the most vulnerable in our community.
We have not closed any of our Children's Centres, nor cut our youth service and we have put unprecedented capital sums into expanding our schools to meet the demand for school places caused by a 30% increase in the birth rate over the last 10 years. We have targeted our reducing budgets on the increasing numbers of those most in need of elderly care and of services to those with physical and learning disabilities and special educational needs.
In this time of budget cuts and austerity we have also invested £2m more than the Tories promised in resurfacing our roads and pavements - a significant £18m over the four years. We have worked closely with the local police to bring crime rates down, investing in more police officers, CCTV in crime hotspots and alley-gating. We have pushed ahead with major regeneration projects on our main housing estates creating new affordable homes and jobs and at the same time transforming local communities where people are now proud and happy to live.
We have not closed any of our libraries or leisure centres and in fact we have invested substantial sums into modernising and refurbishing many of our libraries and we are also providing many state of the art sports facilities as part of our Olympic legacy. Brand new libraries are in the pipeline for Acton and Southall and the new leisure centre, community rooms, eight lane swimming pool and learner pool in the former Acton Town Hall will be a fantastic facility for the whole community.
I'm proud of what Labour has achieved for Ealing in difficult times but there is more to be done and it won't be easy. We know the Tory led government has a similar round of budget cuts in the pipeline for Ealing Council in the next four years and our frontline services will come under massive pressure. Despite this we are saying exactly what we said in 2010 - we will freeze the Council Tax in the first year (2015/16) and keep it as low as possible thereafter. My aspiration is to freeze Council Tax for the next four years if that is possible but we also have to try and protect vital services from the onslaught to come. Having seen what we have achieved in the last four years I'm confident that the electorate will put their trust in the Labour Party to continue to freeze Council Tax for as long as possible and protect vital local services at the election on 22 May.
April 2nd 2014