DENBIGHSHIRE council has approved a council tax increase of 9.34%.
At a council meeting today (Tuesday), councillors voted in favour of the huge rise but not before the council’s lead member for finance slammed the UK’s Westminster Government.
Whilst Denbighshire enjoyed the highest percentage rise in its Welsh Government-allocated annual local government settlement, an increase of 3.7% – this compared to Conwy and Gwynedd’s 2% rise – Denbighshire says it has been treated unfairly by UK Government.
Introducing the budget, cabinet member for finance and Plaid Cymru councillor Gwyneth Ellis was highly critical of the UK’s Tory Government.
“The reason it has been such an uncomfortable process, of course, is the fact that the cost of maintaining the council services has increased by nearly £25m since last year,” she said.
“It is a massive amount. But we’ve got to remember it is not a problem created by Denbighshire County Council. The government in Westminster has chosen not to fund local government fairly.
“This has caused a number of local authorities in England to have to submit a 141 notice, which is a notice of bankruptcy. Nottingham, Birmingham, and Woking are the latest ones. One in every five local authorities in England is scared they will have to do the same thing.”
Leader Cllr Jason McLellan echoed his cabinet member’s sentiments but maintained the budget was ‘robust’ despite criticism from other members.
Cllr McLellan said the public were becoming aware of the shortfall in funding provided to Wales by Westminster.
“We can all agree that none of us in the room want to vote for these savings, these efficiencies. I’ll call them for what they are, cuts. I certainly don’t as a Labour politician,” he said.
“I walked into the Labour Party office in Liverpool as an idealistic student in 1988. I didn’t think I’d have a career in politics, and I didn’t think I’d be presenting a budget which had to deal with a situation where we find ourselves without the funding to balance the budget without making these efficiencies, these cuts.
“We’ve all discussed at length to why we are here. You all know what I believe in. But I believe I am right. There are reasons why we are here, decisions made elsewhere. People and the public are seeing that and getting it because what we are seeing happening to councils in England.”
Denbighshire claims the pressures amount to £24.561m, which the council claimed would have needed a draft local government settlement of around 13.06% to balance the books, instead of the 3.7% received.
The provisional settlement of 3.7% only generates £6.720m additional revenue leaving a funding gap of £17.841m.
Consequently, Denbighshire will look to make major savings across the board – with even schools being asked now to make 3% cuts.
Heads of service have already been asked to make savings of £2.388m – and have now been asked to find an additional £3m savings, yet to be identified.
Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts, therefore, claimed there was a £3m hole in the budget.
“This is the first time ever I’ve been asked to vote on a budget that is not robust,” he said.
“It should be condemned.”
Cllr Chris Evans gave an emotive speech, also condemning the council tax rise.
“It is not just the people on benefits (who will struggle),” he said.
“It is the working people who have to get the food parcels (food banks). Husband, wife, three kids, it is wrong to ask them for more money because the fly-tipping will still carry on, the dog fouling. The grass will still grow higher, and the services will still get cut, and you have the nerve to ask for more money. It is totally wrong.”