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Voluntary tax for super-rich was no ‘flop’, insists council leader

£400,000 raised through donations from Westminster’s wealthiest residents will go to help the homeless – but Labour say scheme is ‘not the answer to the chronic underfunding of vital local services’

09 November, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Nickie Aiken: ‘The hundreds of thousands of pounds being allocated today shows they do care – and they are quite specific what they want this money to go towards’

THE council’s leader claimed a voluntary tax on Westminster’s super-rich had not been a “flop” after they coughed up £400,000 through a new scheme.

Nickie Aiken said the donations from the wealthiest residents, which are going to help the homeless, showed they “do care” about the wider community.

But Labour said the money raised was peanuts compared with the “chronic underfunding of vital local council services” following years of austerity and cutbacks.

Under the scheme, introduced earlier this year, band H property owners were asked to pay a voluntarily contribution – an extra £833-a-year – on top of council tax. Around 500 residents are believed to have contributed from around 15,600 potential contributors.

Cllr Aiken said: “When we first floated the idea of a community contribution scheme, cynics said it would flop, and that wealthy householders didn’t care what happened in their neighbourhoods.

“The hundreds of thousands of pounds being allocated today shows they do care – and they are quite specific what they want this money to go towards. What began life as an experiment based on our gut instinct is turning into a solid way of helping Westminster’s wider community.”

The council has set up a charitable trust that is managing the money that it says will go to various charities and organisations. Around £60,000 is being spent on “employing two ex-rough sleepers… helping people on the streets who may be distrustful of mainstream authority.”

Westminster Labour leader Adam Hug 

One of the new workers, Richard Simpson, said: “What happened to me could happen to anyone. Sometimes it can take a couple of months to earn the trust of someone you’re trying to support.

“But they know that we’ve been through some of the same experiences as them, so they’re more inclined to listen to us. We can get them engaged with some of the services. It’s great that money raised from the community contribution is going towards a project like the one I benefited from. It means getting direct help to those on the streets and a lifeline to a better future.”

The rest of the pot is being split up, with £70,000 available in grants to organisations who help rough sleepers, £130,000 for schemes for young people and £130,000 to go towards initiatives that combat loneliness.

Spending decisions are decided by the City of Westminster Charitable Trust whose trustees include cabinet councillors and the council’s head of finance and legal services.

Westminster Labour leader Adam Hug said: “Labour welcomes the additional support being given to tackle homelessness through the community contribution but it remains a drop in the ocean compared to the millions that the council have cut from the homelessness budgets in recent years or compared to the £36million of ‘savings’ the council has again to find in this year’s budget.

“In its first year of operation the community contribution scheme raised around £400,000 with only a small fraction of potential contributors participating. While we all hope that more people will contribute next year, it is far from certain, given that some people may have seen it as a one-off donation. After years of Conservative austerity any additional money is welcome but this is not the answer to the chronic underfunding of vital local council services.”

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