CEREDIGION councillors must come together to thrash out a balanced “nightmare of a budget” amidst fears of a potential huge increase in council tax levels, senior councillors heard.
At yesterday’s meeting of Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet, members received a stark report outlining bleak choices which would need to be faced for the council to balance its budget.
Those choices included a potential council tax rise of 13.1 per cent, equivalent to an increase of £216 a year for the average Band D property.
The 2024/25 Ceredigion budget requirement is currently £192.470m, an increase of 6.9 per cent from 2023/24, with additional pressures faced after a lower than expected 2.6 per cent Welsh Government funding increase.
Cabinet Member for Finance and Procurement Services Cllr Gareth Davies said: “This is the most difficult budget we have faced, we have faced challenges in the past but nothing compared to this, and the forecast for next year doesn’t look particularly favourable either.”
In a bleak report presented to members yesterday they heard the latest cost pressures faced by the council were an unprecedented £18.1m, with a budget shortfall of £14.6m which “therefore needs to be found from a combination of budget reductions and council tax increase considerations”.
Cllr Alun Williams said there was a need for the county to hunker down and survive the coming storm.
“We are a resilient county, this will severely test our resolve; it’s going to be a prolonged ‘Storm Isha,’ the like of which local government across Wales has not seen.”
He said there was “good financial management in Ceredigion,” adding: “I don’t doubt Ceredigion has the ability to survive until we have more enlightened government across Westminster and Cardiff.
“If we can maintain a basic level of services through this difficult period Ceredigion will recover.”
Cllr Elizabeth Evans described the report as “a nightmare of a budget” where “bleakness has arrived in Ceredigion”.
“There is anger out there, having heard of a possible increase in council tax, and a real fear for people who are struggling; interest rates are not coming down and there’s the cost-of-living crisis, everyone is asking how much more can they afford.
“We enter into a contract with the people of Ceredigion, they pay for it; we need to find a way forward before this goes before full council, we need to get this figure [council tax increase] down.
“We have to get that down otherwise there is a real concern we won’t get it through council.”
Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Customer Services Cllr Catrin M S Davies laid the blame at “14 years of the Tories” and “Liz Truss making the biggest mess of the Treasury”.
Cllr Davies added: “We have also voted in Wales to come out of the EU, a disaster for us; if anybody can support any of the right-wing organisations they should be ashamed of themselves, this is what has led us to where we are; the reasons behind it are far further than Aberaeron or even Cardiff.”
Cllr Gareth Davies said he “didn’t become a councillor to make cuts or increase council tax”.
“We have a responsibility to make a balanced budget; I do not want to see Ceredigion coming to an end. I remember the Dyfed days and decisions being made in Carmarthen.”
He added: “Somehow we must have this budget through the council so we can exist for years to come.”
On January 23, Cabinet members agreed to a long string of recommendations in the report including using a large percentage of the council tax premiums on second homes and empty properties be used to shore up the general budget.
The recommendations will now be scrutinised further, with feedback, and any budget proposals, considered at the February Cabinet meeting before a final decision at the February 29 meeting of full council.