In a statement today (22nd December), People Before Profit/ULA councillors, Melisa Halpin and Hugh Lewis condemned Labour and Fine Gael for supporting the council budget that incorporates the Household Charge and is a continuation of the government’s policies of cutbacks and flat rate taxes that will disproportionately affect the poor, the homeless, the disabled and the vulnerable.
The budget includes a minimum cut of 9% (€2.6 million) from the Department of Local Government, but it was confirmed at the meeting last night that this funding is reliant on the Department collecting millions of euro in the Household Charge. This reduction in the Local Government Fund means that in every department in the council there are severe cutbacks to spending.
Councils across the country should be fighting these cuts that will have a severe impact on frontline services. Councillors should also ensure that the people who can least afford it will not be made to pay the most. Instead they have voted for a budget based on collecting €100 from all home owners. This Household Charge is utterly unfair as it transfers the burden of paying for services from central progressive taxes to a flat charge that sees the millionaire pay the same as the pensioner. The budget also includes a flat rate increase to burial charges, a 50% cut to the Social Inclusion budget, cuts to the community grants, cuts to disabled and elderly persons grants for adapting their houses, cuts to library services and cuts to maintaining the water infrastructure, local authority housing and council estates. There is no reduction to commercial rates or parking charges which are putting increasing pressure on smaller businesses and are bad for town centres. Meanwhile, the council will continue to pay €1.9 million to APCOA to operate street parking, without giving any cost benefit analysis of this contract, and has only reduced the fund for councillor’s expenses by €30,000, leaving over €100,000 for junkets.
Cllrs Melisa Halpin and Hugh Lewis proposed reducing conference expenses to €1000 per councillor and cutting the allowance for chairing the Strategic Policy Committees by 50%. They proposed using the remaining money (€133,600) to offset the cut to the Social Inclusion fund and increase the funds available for disabled and elderly persons grants. The proposal fell to another proposal that accepted the budget and reduced the junket fund by a mere €30,000.
Cllr Melisa Halpin said: “It is hardly surprising that Fine Gael would support this budget but the Labour Party should be ashamed of itself. They have accepted a budget that sees the pensioner who has €219 per week pay the same Household Charge of €100 as the millionaire. They have voted for an array of cuts that will hit the poor, the vulnerable and the disabled. The flat rate increase to burial fees (a plot in Shanganagh goes from €2700 to €2900 and interment fees from €765 to €940) again is a regressive tax that will disproportionately affect the poor. They have voted to cut the Social Inclusion Fund by 50%. Already last year we saw the Festival of World Cultures fall by the way side, now this cut.