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Struggling families urged to seek help as Gwynedd approves council tax increase

STRUGGLING families are being urged to seek help as Gwynedd approves ‘unprecedented’ 9.54 council tax.

It comes as Cyngor Gwynedd set its budget for 2024/25 approving the council tax increase.

The amount would see a weekly increase of £2.94 or £152.89 on the annual bills with a Band D tax of £1,755.47 set for 2024/25.

The figures were accepted at the full council’s meeting held today, Thursday, March 7 after being presented by Councillor Ioan Thomas, Cabinet Member for Finance.

The meeting had heard the rise had been inevitable amid a backdrop of “increasing pressure of demand on services” and “unprecedented levels of inflation for decades.”

An overspend of more than £8M was reported. The main areas of over spend had seen 5.4M in adult health and well being – 66 percent of the total overspend. Learning disability services and domiciliary care had also seen increased pressure .

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“Many of you do not accept the term overspend, saying underfunding is a better description and I sympathise with that view. This is seen as an overspend in the world of finance.” Cllr Thomas said.

The council had had “no choice” but to use 8 M from funds, it would “clear out” the £8.3 M from tits Covid recovery fund  and 4.3 M from a financial strategy fund.

Head of finance Dewi Morgan said the full figures would only come to light when accounts are closed in April and May, and using council reserves was an “unsustainable” strategy.

Having to set a 9.54 percent council was an “unprecedented” in his time at the council he said.

The council position was that it was “committed” to protecting schools and services for vulnerable children and families, despite the dire financial situation facing public services across Wales.

The Cabinet also recommended to the full council are a budget of £331,814,710 should be set for 2024/25, to be funded by £233,316,780 of Government Grant and £98,497,930 of Council Tax income (which is an increase of 9.54%).

A capital programme of £85,224,800 in 2024/25 would also be established.

The authority had also received the lowest settlement of all the Welsh Local Authorities at just 2.3 percent.

The Council had forecast that the costs of maintaining services for next year will have risen by around £22.7 million, but that the funding the Council received from the Welsh Government would only increase by £5.1 million.

Cllr Ioan told the meeting “I can say with hand on heart that none of my fellow members were comfortable making these difficult decisions.”

“But the reality of the situation is that we’ve been backed into a corner by a combination of factors and the only option now is to spend less on certain services and to increase the tax.

“Everyone’s day-to-day costs have risen dramatically over the last few years and the same goes for us as a Council. Things like energy, insurance, raw materials and wages are much more expensive today compared to this time last year.

“At the same time, unfortunately, we are seeing greater demand than ever for our services.

“Referrals to Gwynedd’s children’s social services had increased by more than 2,500 compared to pre-Covid times; there are more than 2,000 extra referrals to the Council’s mental health services over the same period and our spending on homeless services has doubled since 2021/22.

“While the grant Gwynedd receives from the Welsh Government has increased by 2.3% this year, the reality is that the average increase across the 22 Welsh councils is 3.3%.

“We are one of two Welsh councils to receive the lowest sum as our population has fallen more than any other authority in the country.

“We have no option but to balance our books despite the fact that the money we receive from the Government is nowhere near enough to keep up with our spiralling costs.”

Despite the challenging situation, Cyngor Gwynedd is committed to shielding education and social services for children and families from any cuts.

Leader of Cyngor Gwynedd, Councillor Dyfrig Siencyn, added:

“Thanks to sound financial planning over the years, Cyngor Gwynedd is in a stable financial position compared to many other councils.

Nevertheless, we are not immune to the economic and social problems that are impacting public services across the UK and difficult decisions have had to been taken.

“We are also very concerned that the financial forecasts looks bleak for the next two years. Because of this we are continuing to call on the Westminster Government to recognise the crisis in local government and to fund services fairly.

“Although we have made every effort to keep the Council Tax increase to a minimum, we are acutely aware that these increases could make life even more difficult for those who are already struggling.

Deputy leader Cllr Nia Jeffreys added there was help available for struggling Gwynedd families.

“There are two important messages to get over to the people of Gwynedd, everyone check your rights and claim what you are owed.

It was understood that many people did not claim benefits they were entitled to.

“Claiming council tax credit can help people to access further benefits, so please go on our council website for cost of living help, or visit a community hub, attend a cost of living event held in the county or visit citizens advice or your local councillor so we can help you.” She said.

And she added “Don’t let the Tories in London fool you, there is a direct link with what is happening in the chambers in London to the chamber here today.

“The Tories aren’t worried about us in Wales, it ia an attack on our way of living our values, everything we stand for.”

See the website www.gwynedd.llyw.cymru/costoflivingcrisis.”

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