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CROYDON VOTES FOR 2% RISE IN TAX REFERENDUM

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Croydon's council tax is set to rise by just 2% in 2001/02 as a result of the people's verdict in London's first co...
Croydon's council tax is set to rise by just 2% in 2001/02 as a result of the people's verdict in London's first council tax referendum.
80,383 voters took part in the historic ballot - 35.1% of those given the unprecedented opportunity to take part in council decision-making.
Their preference will now go before the policy committee on 26 February and onto the council tax making meeting on 12 March when next year's council tax will be confirmed. The rise that Croydon voters have chosen means that the typical Band D household would be paying£823.87 in council tax from April, a rise of£1.35 per calendar month.
Through prudent financial management the council had been able to make a commitment that the chosen figure would be the bottom line council tax increase irrespective of any uncertainties posed by Ken Livingstone's precept for London- wide services. The increase which voters have chosen is expected to be one of the lowest in London and will keep Croydon firmly in the bottom half of the capital's council tax league table.
In their own unique referendum, Croydon council tenants have also told the council that they don't want to pay any more next year (see below). A 24.1% turnout of 4,190 voted in favour of a rent freeze - keeping average rents at£65 a week.
The exercise in people power has been regarded as a big success by town hall chiefs. Until Croydon's announcement only once before had a council (Milton Keynes two years ago) given the public a direct say in how much it should pay in council tax. Bristol too caught up with Croydon's initiative this month with its referendum also being run by Electoral Reform Services (ERS). However, both these councils undertook their own referendums because of severe financial pressures; right from the start Croydon's exercise was regarded as an extension of public involvement in democratic local government. Council leaders described the ballot, which gave a voting opportunity to everyone listed on the electoral roll, as 'the ultimate form of public consultation'.
Of those who voted, 91.72% did so by freepost; 4.88 via freephone and 3.4% through the internet. Voting took place in the first two weeks of February. ERS supplied the results within 24 hours of polling closing on 14 February.
The overall turnout is just 2.7% less than the 37.8% turnout at the last municipal election in May, 1998. It has easily outstripped the best figures that Croydon had previously enjoyed for involvement in public consultation involvement; some 5,500 responded to a boroughwide survey on the prospect of a five-term school year in October, 1999.
Said council leader Hugh Malyan: 'This has been an historic exercise for Croydon and I am delighted that our borough has displayed the vision and inspiration to be the first in London and the south east to give this opportunity to our residents. Money paid out in council tax and, for tenants, council rents, affects the spending power of every household in the borough. We were giving people real options with real consequences in terms of extra service delivery. They had all the information necessary to make an informed decision and it is extremely encouraging that so many did so.
'Although for legal reasons the formal council tax and rent levels must be decided by the council itself, I can give a firm commitment that Croydon Council will be pleased to recognise the people's choices of what will be one of the lowest council tax increases in London.
'The referendum has been a thoroughly valuable and worthwhile exercise in local democracy. It has achieved a brilliant response. Considering all the voices of doom and gloom, saying very few people would bother to take part, a turnout of more than one in three of the entire adult population of Croydon is a stupendous achievement and a great start for the first such referendum to be held in London. We secured a much bigger percentage turnout for our council tax referendum than Birmingham (28.3%), Leeds (27.5%) or Norwich (29.3%) achieved last year in their city council elections.
'We have learned some lessons about how to improve the efficiency of the exercise. If the council decides that occasional referendums should become a regular feature of public participation in Croydon then we will aim to be even slicker in future and hopefully enjoy even bigger turnouts.'
COUNCIL TAX VOTING FIGURES
First preference totalFirst preference %
option A - 2%44,83656.58%
option B - 3.5%25,09131.67%
option C - 5%9,30111.75%
Notes
1. Croydon announced its intention to stage a council tax referendum in July, 2000. The current Band D council tax for 2000/01 is£807.72 - a figure that is below the outer London average.
2. All 235,000 people whose names appear on the electoral register were sent ballot papers enabling them to vote in one of three ways for one of three proposed council tax increases in 2001/02 - 2 per cent, 3.5 per cent and 5 per cent.
3. 17, 390 council tenants were additionally given the opportunity to vote on the level of rent in 2001/02. 4,190 tenants voted (24.1%). 58.45% voted for no increase; 32.47% voted for 1 per cent rise; 9.08% voted for a 2% rise.
4. The 2 per cent council tax option chosen by a clear majority or residents is the minimum amount Croydon Council needs to maintain high quality services in 2001/02.
ANALYSIS OF COUNCIL TAX VOTING METHOD
Valid Votes% of Valid Votes
Postal72,67991.72%
Telephone3,8654.88%
Internet2,6933.4%
COUNCIL TENANTS OPT FOR RENT FREEZE IN HISTORIC REFERENDUM
Taking part in a unique referendum for the UK, Croydon's Council tenants have voted for their rents to be frozen for the coming financial year.
In what has been described as a very successful exercise by town hall chiefs, the London borough's 17,000 council tenants were given the opportunity to vote in the historic rent referendum on three proposed rent levels (a rent freeze, an increase of 1%, or an increase of 2%). Of the 4,000 responding,just over 58% voted for a rent freeze.
The result means average rents remaining at£65 a week during 2001/02, with the council committed to maintaining the existing high level of local housing services.
Said Croydon's cabinet member for housing, Councillor Tony Newman: 'This referendum is an historic landmark in local democracy and tenant participation. It builds on the launch of residents' district panels and the co-opting of tenants and leaseholders onto the council's cabinet consultative panel for housing and social services. It's just a part of our ongoing drive to modernise local government, and to give residents even more chance to influence the council's actions by getting actively involved in the decision-making process. Never before have tenants anywhere in the country had such an opportunity to do this.'
'This indicates that tenants are satisfied with the high standard of services we currently provide and the way we efficiently manage resources.'
Council tenants were given the chance to vote on rent levels alongside Croydon's council tax referendum - an historic double for a local authority in Britain.
NOTE
The results of the rent referendum are:
First preference total (votes)Percentage (%)
Option A - Rent freeze 2,381 58.45
Option B - 1% increase 1,323 32.47
Option C - 2% increase 370 9.08
Total 4,074 100.00
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