Wednesday, April 08, 2020

"Coronavirus: Newham Council approves more than £60m worth of council tax and business rates relief"

Headline is from the Newham Recorder and picture of Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz at our 2nd "urgent" Council Cabinet meeting of the current crisis on Friday (3rd April).

Because of legal requirements that all Cabinet meetings had to have at least 3 members present, the Mayor, myself and Cllr Julianne Marriott (Education Chief) were physically present at the meeting with certain senior officers (ironically this requirement was changed the following day).

Other Cabinet and Executive members (and Chair of Scrutiny)  skyped into the meeting as well as senior managers.

As the Recorder reports, we discussed and approved 3 proposals (see live Facebook feed of the meeting

We agreed over £60 million of Council tax and business rates relief. Some 20,000 of the poorest Newham families and Households (around 20% of all liable to pay) will now pay zero or little Council tax.

A 100% discount on business rates for eligible businesses who will be also able to apply for grants of between £10,000 to £25,000.

Leisure, retail and hospitality businesses, as well as nurseries are the main beneficiaries of the grants. So your local private gym, clothes shops and pubs should be able to apply for help.

We also agreed to safeguard our critical and essential public services such as bin collections, highways safety, child protection, social care, youth safety, temporary and emergency accommodation

Extra powers were also approved for our Chief Executive and Directors to increase the power to make urgent procurement decisions due to the COVID emergency (subject to consultation with the appropriate Cabinet member). These powers will only be for COVID issues and will last for 6 months and reviewed in 3 months. Cllr Marriott clarified that we can rescind these powers sooner if they are not needed any more.

Cllr Sarah Ruiz (virtually) asked the question about will the Government deliver on their promises to pay for all this? In the light of 10 years of austerity this is a fair point. I also asked that we press for greater clarity and guidance from the government on what they have promised. For example we have undertaken significant expenditure on moving homeless families and children into more suitable self contained accommodation? Will we get the money back and what about afterwards? Will we get the money to properly house these families for the long term?

It was a sombre meeting, knowing how important these issues are to everyone who lives or works in Newham. We were also conscious that we are making these important decisions, without all the usual constitutional and governance arrangements.  I think we have muddled through imperfectly but in the finest traditions of British local government, adapting and evolving to meet the most serious national crisis in my lifetime. 

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