Nearly 100,000 Greenwich households should be paid £50 straight away to help with the cost of living crisis, Conservative councillors have said – but the Labour council has responded by saying it wants to ask residents what to do.
The town hall’s three remaining Tory councillors – leader Matt Hartley, Pat Greenwell and John Hills – have put a motion forward for next week’s council meeting, the first of Anthony Okereke’s new administration, stating that the money could be paid from nearly £5m in funds supplied by the government to help with Covid relief programmes.
All households in bands A to D would get a £50 rebate on their bills, along with all other households who get council tax support.
The Tories argue that this would be the fastest way to get help to people as price rises start to bite. They say 81 per cent of households would get the money, ranging from 57 per cent in Blackheath Westcombe ward to 96 per cent in Abbey Wood.
But just hours after the Tory motion was published, Okereke hit back with his own plan – added to the agenda of his first cabinet meeting as leader.
Last night his cabinet voted to begin a consultation on what it should do, by “reaching out widely to connect with residents directly, through community centres, respected local figures, faith groups and many others”.
The results of the consultation will be reported back to the cabinet next month.
A paper placed before the cabinet last night said that the consultation would “see the council and residents engaging in a meaningful conversation to determine where need is and how best to respond and how known and effective existing support is”.
Providing a response immediately, such as the Tories’ plan, was ruled out. “Whilst providing a timely response, without the benefit of good data and insight, this could effectively be a blunt approach and end up supporting those that are not those in the most need,” the paper said.
Hartley accused the Labour leadership of being stung into action by the Tories’ plan.
“I am pleased our cost of living proposal has forced the new Labour council leadership into exploring what more the council can do – though still not with the subtsance or urgency of action the situation requires,” he told 853 last night.
“Our proposal for a £50 cost of living rebate will make a difference now. This policy is worked up, costed and ready to go.
“Labour councillors should vote for it next Wednesday, in parallel to their new ‘task force’ – or they risk creating even more delay in getting this £4.9 million of government funding out of the council’s accounts and in to residents’ pockets.”
Households in bands A to D have already had a £150 rebate funded by the government. Residents who do not pay by direct debit have to apply for their cash.
Okereke also announced plans to spend £2.4m in government funding to help vulnerable people in the borough.
They include £60 for each child or young person eligible for free school meals, or vulnerable under-fives – thought to number about 15,000 in total; about £250 for the borough’s 300 care leavers; about £100 for migrants who are not otherwise allowed to access public funds, thought to benefit 150 households; and about £120 for 7,500 low-income pensioner households.
The new leader also plans to boost support for local food clubs and pantries as well as other support schemes.
He said: “The rising cost of living is not news to many of our residents who may already be feeling the strain, but we want you to know we are here to support you.
“Together we will tackle the inequalities affecting the most vulnerable residents in our community. We believe it is a basic human right to be able to feed your family and keep them warm during the colder months, despite surging energy prices.
“The rising energy costs are a massive concern that we plan to address with the support of our local partners and charity organisations.”
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