7 reasons why Wandsworth’s low council tax is right

Councillor Simon Hogg listens to ideas for regenerating the local area

Council tax is unfair to older people, renters and those on low incomes. Here are the reasons why I will be voting to freeze Wandsworth’s council tax this year:

1. Council Tax hits the poorest hardest

The multi-billionaire Warren Buffet once noted that while he paid 17.7 per cent of his income in taxes, his receptionist was unfairly asked to contribute 30 per cent.

Council tax has a similar ‘regressive’ impact. Wandsworth’s Band D council tax is almost 5 per cent of after-tax income for Peter, a security guard who lives in Latchmere, the ward I represent. For his near-neighbour Rakesh, a solicitor, it is much less than 1 per cent of his income. Hundreds of my constituents have told me that they enjoy Wandsworth’s low council tax. I know some who simply couldn’t afford to pay more.

2. Council tax only funds 5% of Wandsworth’s budget – so increasing it would not raise much money

In the financial year 2013/14, Wandsworth council budgeted to spend over £900 million. It raised only £45 million of this through council tax.

The maximum increase without a local referendum for Wandsworth in 2014/15 would be 2 per cent, or £900,000. If the council increased tax by the maximum allowed it would only raise enough money to cover 0.1pc of its annual budget. Or to put it another way, enough money to run the council for another 8 hours.

While Wandsworth raises £45m a year from council tax, parking charges raise £29 million.

The serious taxes still go to central government: last year Wandsworth residents paid an astonishing £121m in stamp duty (plus of course many hundreds of million in income taxes).

3. Council tax assumes that because you have a nice house you are rich

Many older people on low, fixed incomes have been unfairly caught in this trap. Helen lives in the family home near Wandsworth Common that she has occupied since the 1970s. A graphic designer, she has never earned more than £20,000 in a year, but now faces a council tax bill the same size as her multi-millionaire neighbours.

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Flood risks in north Battersea

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A Flood Alert has been issued by the Environment Agency for the River Wandle.

Flooding is possible for the River Wandle Catchment (which includes Wandsworth, Merton, Lambeth, Croydon and Sutton).

Low lying land and roads will be affected first.

River levels are expected to rise through this afternoon (Friday) in response to persistent and heavy rainfall through today. Between 20 and 30mm is forecast and further isolated showers are likely to continue through to Saturday.

Flooding of low lying land and roads is possible. Groundwater levels are high in the area and is maintaining a higher than normal base flows in the river. Property flooding is currently not expected.  Continue reading

Winstanley Estate regeneration: 10 problems – and how we can make it a success

(Speech to Wandsworth council, December 2013 – starts at 31.30mins)

I think this crucial regeneration project has begun well, thanks to hard work by staff and consultants, co-operation between political parties and, crucially, engagement from local people. Who have, so far, backed the most bold option put in front of them.

It is a mighty challenge now for the council to sell the benefits of potentially demolishing 700 homes and replacing them with around 2,000 new homes – perhaps a billion pounds of new housing – on that estate.

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Car crash on Candahar Road: How can we stop this happening again?

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“The car was traveling at such speed that it flipped over having clipped another car.” I was shocked but not surprised when a local woman told me about last Friday’s horrible crash on Candahar Road.

The woman, who had been in touch before to complain about speeding cars, told me: “I am pleased to report there were no serious injuries, thank goodness, but there were two children in the car and my son was parallel to the accident on the pavement so it could have been a very different story.

“It took 17 firemen to free those trapped in the car. My husband spoke to the paramedic who expressed disbelief that this could happen in our side roads.”

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Revealed: Winstanley Estate regeneration plans

IMG_0069This weekend I will join dozens of Labour Party volunteers listening to what local people think about plans to regenerate the Winstanley and York Road estates. The council has revealed the four options for regeneration, which range from refurbishing existing blocks all the way up to demolishing 700 homes and redesigning the estates. You can see the options in detail in this useful booklet: Winstanley and York Road options explained

The aim of the regeneration is to:

• Improve the quality and range of homes
• Create a better quality and more attractive environment
• Create attractive and popular outside spaces
• Improve the design and layout of the neighbourhood
• Create better walking and cycling routes which connect the estates with its surroundings
• Create new jobs and a stronger local economy
• Improve the range and quality of shops
• Ensure new homes meet the Mayor of London’s size and design standards
• Reduce overcrowding
• Solve maintenance and management issues through smart design Continue reading

Wrong, harmful and costly: Wandsworth’s reckless housing cuts

(Speech from Oct 16, 2013 – starts at 12 mins in the above video)

I think housing is the biggest challenge that faces this council.

It’s an issue that affects every one of us.

Young renters moving through a series of expensive, short-term flats. Parents struggling to fund their children – from the ‘Bank of Mom & Dad’. The homeless families with their lives in ruins.

Local house prices are now 13 times local salaries. Private rents up 14pc in a year. Wandsworth is living through a housing crisis.

As councillor Thomas skilfully outlined, a series of welfare reforms are hitting our poorest residents. And this impact is about to get worse.

Housing is important.

That’s why Wandsworth’s Housing department is important.

It does some fantastic work. Tenant satisfaction levels are extraordinary, officers have created hundreds of Hidden Homes, the graffiti removal service is excellent there are hugely popular open days to encourage home ownership and affordable housing.

The £100m regeneration of our most deprived estates is possible thanks to the long-term strength of the rents account – the Housing Revenue account – which has a £1.8bn projected surplus.

And it can’t be said often enough in this debate – housing is funded by those people who live in council housing. There is a legal ring-fence around the money collected in rent – more than £100m a year.

Unlike other debates about  cuts to services, this is not about the money we receive from government and this is not about the council tax we collect from residents.

The first thing to say about these proposals for 45 job cuts is that they were pushed through to evade scrutiny. The plans were fully formed at the time of the last housing committee but were hidden from councillors. This is not fair dealing.

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Video: The day 100 volunteers campaigned in Battersea

On October 26, 100 volunteers came on to the streets of Battersea to campaign for Will Martindale, Battersea’s next Labour MP. I was number 30.

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You can meet all 100 in this fun short video of the day (below). Will Martindale has also written an article explaining why upset Lib Dem, divided Tories and new young voters will make Battersea will be a Labour gain in the General Election of 2015.