DENBIGHSHIRE’S cabinet supported a council tax rise of 9.34% after throwing out a call from backbenchers to halt a 40% reduction of library opening hours.
The final decision on council tax must now go before Denbighshire’s full council, but the cabinet unanimously backed the huge increase at a meeting today (Tuesday).
The council tax rise included the 8.23% council-set rise and an additional 1.1% due to the increased levy for the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority, which Denbighshire has no control over.
Leader Cllr Jason McLellan said the consequences of Denbighshire not setting a balanced budget and facing bankruptcy were far worse than increasing council tax.
He explained councils that fail to balance the books face external commissioners making cuts.
“It has been an incredibly challenging and difficult process,” said Cllr McLellan.
“Local government in Wales has had huge cuts. It is a large increase because it does reflect the incredibly unprecedented times that we’re in.
“Last year we were able to keep it (the council tax increase) low in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. We’ve heard in Wales we have a council tax reduction scheme, so the most vulnerable will be protected.”
He added: “It is an increase. There’s no getting away from that. But you’ve heard the need to balance the budget. The consequences of not doing that are far worse.”
During the same meeting at Ruthin’s County Hall HQ, councillors also rejected a call-in on library opening hours following a scrutiny committee earlier this month. The committee called in the decision after the cabinet agreed to cut the opening hours of its eight libraries by 40%.
Backbenchers called for cabinet members to review their decision after a huge public backlash against the plans.
But whilst Denbighshire’s Labour and Plaid Cymru cabinet members admitted they disliked the decision to reduce library opening hours, they said the council faced unprecedented demands, which were blamed on the UK Tory government’s funding to Welsh Government.
Cabinet member for the Welsh language, culture, and heritage Cllr Emrys Wynne said: “I have made it clear in every single meeting that I thought the decision to reduce library services does not sit well with me; however, we all know that the budget challenge currently facing the council is unprecedented, and therefore this decision is necessary to respond to the financial challenge of setting a balanced budget.
“I would like to remind people that this decision won’t result in any library in Denbighshire having to close. All the services that are currently provided in our libraries will continue.
“The library service will operate on reduced hours. I must emphasise that all libraries – there are eight libraries in the county – and they will remain open. I’m comfortable that cabinet has listened and responded to the feedback from the public consultation.”
But Cllr Hugh Irving called the decision totally undemocratic. The cabinet did agree to look at ways in which libraries could be funded externally.
During the meeting, Denbighshire cabinet members admitted they had received a better provisional local government settlement from Welsh Government than expected at 3.7%, one of the highest increases in Wales.
The council tax for 2024/25 is set to be discussed at the next full council meeting.