Labour councillors have backed a budget they say will protect the most vulnerable people in Haringey during a “desperate” time – but opposition Liberal Democrats have warned against a “huge increase in borrowing”.

Haringey Council’s cabinet member for finance Sarah Williams defended the 4.99% council tax hike as “the only way we can continue to deliver key services” as she slammed the Conservative government over austerity and highlighted the local Labour administration’s ongoing investment in adults’ and children’s services.

Speaking during a full council meeting last Thursday, Cllr Willams said: “This budget is our roadmap for tackling the biggest challenges we face as a borough. It is a budget that will drive down inequality, protect our most vulnerable and build a fairer borough.”

The Labour finance chief said the council would invest £16.4 million in children’s and adults’ services, build new social care facilities such as a nursing home and mental health recovery centre, and provide financial support for residents – including an expanded council tax reduction scheme.

Further investments, she added, included long-term funding for the Rising Green Youth Hub in Wood Green, school refurbishments and ongoing plans for 3,000 new council homes by 2031.

But the Lib Dems called for the council to scrap expensive building projects and provide extra support for residents and businesses hit by the cost-of-living crisis. Their alternative budget plans included a business rates reduction scheme, one-off payments of £70 to pensioners on council tax support or pension credit, dementia hubs, and after-school destinations for young people in every area.

These schemes would be paid for partly via staff cuts and reductions to communications spending. The opposition also called for spending on an annex to Haringey Civic Centre to be axed and diverted to building new nurseries and extra measures to boost walking and cycling.

Introducing the Liberal Democrat budget amendments, opposition group leader Luke Cawley-Harrison criticised a “huge increase in borrowing in such a short time”, which he said would put a strain on the council’s revenue budget.

Warning the costs of revamping the Grade 2-listed Haringey Civic Centre in Wood Green and building a new annex had soared to £66m, Cllr Cawley-Harrison added: “Now is not the time to be building brand new offices for a council that is at such a monumental financial moment.” He also claimed the council was losing £1m per year by failing to let out its former offices.

Cllr Cawley-Harrison called for the administration to expand local authority nurseries and “commence a nursery-building programme to provide additional local-run nurseries in the borough”.

Labour’s Zena Brabazon, cabinet member for children, schools and families, pointed out that the council was investing £6m in children’s services and claimed building a new, local-authority maintained nursery was currently “illegal”. However, the Lib Dems said it was not illegal to “expand” existing provision.

Setting out proposed measures to help young people, Pippa Connor said the Lib Dems wanted to see a “youth-led council within each school” to design after-school spaces and activities, adding that following the Covid-19 pandemic “a huge number of our young people” were looking for greater support “to allow them the space to grow”.

Her colleague Scott Emery proposed carrying out a feasibility study into a “workplace parking levy”, which would involve “charging bigger companies where their employees drive and park up in Haringey”. He also called for more bike hangars, parklets, zebra crossings and two new playgrounds.

Lib Dem councillor Alessandra Rossetti warned the council’s borrowing was set to reach £1.7billion by 2028 and questioned whether the authority would be able to afford the repayments. She added that the council was spending £65m on the civic centre upgrade “despite the cost-of-living [crisis] and trends showing the workforce will be working from home more and more in the future”.

Labour councillors defended their budget plans. Mike Hakata, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for climate action, environment, and transport, said the budget supported the administration’s “hugely ambitious green agenda”. He said the council planned to retrofit all council homes, provide £500,000 in match funding to plant 10,000 more trees, and invest £1.6m in the authority’s ‘school streets’ programme.

Mary Mason said the problems created by climate change, inequality and the cost-of-living crisis “cannot be solved by a piecemeal allocation of funds as suggested by the Liberal Democrats”. She said there needed to be a “collaborative approach” with foodbanks and other community groups.

Speaking at the end of the meeting, Cllr Williams defended the civic centre revamp and said it would provide a central location for staff as well as flexible space that could be used by the community. She said staff deserved “decent, modern and accessible buildings”.

The Lib Dems also proposed allowing people to voluntarily pay extra council tax to help raise more money for services. But Cllr Williams rejected this, saying council tax should not be a “charitable add-on” and encouraging those who could afford it to give to “the very good charities we already have in the borough”.

Following the debate, Labour councillors voted down the proposed Liberal Democrat budget amendments and then voted for their administration’s 2023/24 budget, with the Lib Dems voting against.