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Council tax rise rubber-stamped, but cabinet member refuses to answer questions

COUNCIL tax will increase by 3.8% in Denbighshire after councillors agreed on the budget and to plug a £10.8m funding gap with savings. 

The decision follows the council’s cabinet approving the report last week before the increase was rubber-stamped by full council. 
But Denbighshire’s cabinet member for finance refused to answer questions on how a 3.8% increase could be agreed.

Councillors in the chamber at Ruthin’s County Hall heard how Denbighshire had received an increased settlement from Welsh Government of 8.2%. 
The settlement is above the 7.9% Welsh average increase and considerably higher than in the neighbouring county of Conwy (7.3%) where council tax is estimated to increase by around 10%. 

But Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts was unimpressed. 
Cllr Hilditch Roberts complained how five Plaid Cymru councillors had (unsuccessfully) voted for a 0% increase whilst setting last year’s budget, including the current cabinet member for finance – adding that now the public were worse off. 
“I think this time last year, the retail price index (the measurement used for inflation) stood at 7.5%, and it now stands at 13.8%,” said the independent councillor. 
“And at the time electricity (the cost of) had increased by 50%. It has now increased by 80%, so there’s a big shift. 
“I’d just like to ask the lead member (for finance) how she has had the biggest settlement Denbighshire has ever had and now comes up with a figure of 3.8%?” 

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Gwyneth Ellis responded: “I’m not sure what is the relevance of that question, rather than to score political points. 
“Of course, you have every right to do that.”  

Cllr Hilditch-Roberts later asked the question again to Cllr Ellis, but his request was refused by Plaid Cymru councillor and meeting chairman Cllr Arwel Roberts.  
Cllr Hilditch-Roberts then accused the council of sweeping questions under the carpet.  

The budget report listed pressures of £25.1m and a funding gap of over £10.8m 

Included in a long list of financial pressures were £3.2m of pay increases, £2.89m of inflation costs, inflation’s impact on schools, amounting to £3.9m, and £8.18m of care-associated costs, including Real Living Wage payments to staff.
To cover all these costs, Denbighshire would have needed a Welsh Government settlement of around 14.5%.

The council plan to fill the gap by using savings in its capital savings budget, unused COVID contingency funds, and a surplus of £3.8m following a review of a pension fund, amongst other savings.