Harrow’s Labour administration said it was “proud” to have achieved a balanced draft budget, despite plans to increase council tax by almost four per cent next year.

Cllr Adam Swersky, responsible for finance at Harrow Council, outlined the budget proposals for 2020/21 at a cabinet meeting on Thursday (January 9).

He described the council tax increase as a “necessity”, noting the consistent reduction in government funding as a key contributing factor.

According to a council report, council tax income represents more than three-quarters of the budget, which is up from around 50 per cent in 2014.

Cllr Swersky said high council tax increases across the country are “expected” by the Government and that it is essentially a “national stealth tax”.

“Austerity is not over, and local government is not benefiting from any reversal of government cuts,” he said.

“The Government needs to bite the bullet and finally look to solve the funding crisis and we will support them if they try to.

“Increasing council tax is the last resort but, at this stage, it is impossible to balance the budget without doing so.”

The council looks to have closed last year’s budget gap of around £26 million and Cllr Swersky said this was achieved “without cutting frontline services”.

He said it arrived due to growth in several departments, as well as “efficiency savings” and “one-off help” such as the £1.95 million drawn from council reserves.

However, there are funding gaps anticipated for the two years after next with the council facing shortfalls of roughly £15 million and £9 million for 2021/22 and 2022/23 respectively.

Cllr Swersky described the outlook as “extremely difficult” in the face of “a lack of government support, inflationary challenges and increased demand”.

But he said the council would “continue to support those in need” and voice its opinion about the “long-term crisis of council funding”.