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Merthyr Tydfil Politics South Wales

Merthyr Tydfil Council approves annual budget despite controversial vote

MERTHYR TYDFIL Council has come back from the brink and approved its annual budget following a controversial tied vote that took place between councillors in February of 2024.

The special follow-up meeting, which happened on March 6, came after warnings were issued to members on what would happen if they didn’t set a balanced budget this time round, with the potential for the council to “grind to a halt.”

A previous vote on the budget, which included an 8% rise in council tax along with £9.4 million in “efficiencies and cuts,” was split 14-14 between members with two abstentions, including from the mayor who did not use his casting vote, meaning the proposals were not passed.

However, councillors from the borough passed the final proposals at the subsequent meeting, following a previous report which read: “With no agreement on the budget, of which council tax forms a major part, no budgetary allocations exist and there can be no provision for services, staff or contractual commitments of the council.

“The council’s ability to perform its statutory responsibilities, will be in jeopardy and will in effect ‘grind to a halt’. This will have a significant impact on most residents, in particular vulnerable adults, and children.”

A vote was once again carried out at the meeting, with 13 members voting in favour of the proposals, while 16 members chose to abstain. It means a net revenue budget of of £160.899 million will be taken forward in to the 2024-25 financial year, along with a council tax increase of 8%. This hike would mean a band D council tax bill would be £1,974.61 for 2024/25 which is an extra £146.27 or £2.81 per week.

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Speaking after the meeting, council leader Geraint Thomas  said: “We have done everything we can to protect our residents, especially during the current cost-of-living crisis where everyone is feeling the pinch, however we have exhausted all options and have been left with no alternative.

“These cuts, and an increase in council tax at this level, which will generate an income of £2.24m, are the only way to help balance the books by March 11, as is legally required. Other Welsh local authorities have had to look at even larger increases – some as high as 16-20% – to close the funding gap.

“Residents have played an integral part on informing these decisions, with 60% of those responding to our recent budget consultation agreeing to maintain as many services at the current level as possible, even if it meant a reasonable increase in Council Tax. In addition to this we have taken on-board feedback from a variety of scrutiny meetings, which has included elected members from all parties.

“I respect the views of all councillors and appreciate that this has been a difficult decision for everyone, however we have statutory duty as members to set a lawful, balanced budget.

“We will continue to face financial challenges unless we see more substantial financial settlements for local authorities. I want to reassure residents that we will continue to strive to find innovative ways to face these challenges in future.”