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Monmouthshire Council finalises budget and council tax for 2023

COUNCILLORS have passed a budget at a second attempt but £10 million cuts and a 5.95 per cent council tax rise remain amid five key changes. 

Among the savings and cuts that have now been dropped are a plan to double the £1 charge for children attending pre-school breakfast clubs and the withdrawal of the £100,000 funding to the Gwent Music Service. 

Instead the council will provide the charity with £39,000 a year which will maintain whole class lessons free of charge. 

Monmouthshire council’s ruling Labour cabinet, whose budget was defeated by the combined opposition last week, has also agreed to reduce savings, by £40,000, in neighbourhood services to support litter picking and street cleaning while £25,000 is also being made available to tackle littering including of road side verges. 

A budget saving of £81,000 in the Education Psychology Service has also been reversed, with the cabinet insisting it had originally been included due to uncertainty on grant funding. Both the Conservative and Independent groups welcomed the reversal and confirmation the post will be included as an on-going financial commitment at the end of the two year grant. 

The cabinet also agreed to restore £30,000 to the additional learning needs budget. 

Council leader Mary Ann Brocklesby said: “A week is a long time in politics and it feels slightly longer than a week since we were all last here and much has happened to allow me to return to the council in the knowledge we have all pulled together in the best interests of our residents.” 

The Llanelly Hill councillor said the revised budget had been agreed “within the budget context” facing the council which are increased costs pressures of £26m, on last year’s budget, and despite an increase in Welsh Government funding a need to find £11m in savings. 

It was agreed by the cabinet before last week’s meeting to use £1m from reserves to maintain social care services by delaying a review and planned cuts for a year. 

But the Independent Group, and Green Party councillor Ian Chandler, said they were still unhappy at the cuts to social care. 

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Llantilio Crossenny member Cllr Chanlder said: “Those cuts are still going ahead but at a slower rate”. 

Magor councillor Frances Taylor, the leader of the Independent Group, said she would find it “difficult to support the budget” as “it is still unclear where the social care cuts are intended to be made”. 

Despite the criticism of the budget, amid comments from across the chamber welcoming the revisions, it was clear the budget would pass after Conservative opposition leader Richard John confirmed his 18 member group would abstain. 

The Trellech councillor said he welcomed the decision to drop plans for a £2 charge for child care when attending pre school clubs where children are entitled to a free breakfast. 

The cabinet last week proposed to maintain a £1 charge for a family’s first child but introduce a £2 charge for all subsequent children which Cllr John described as “unworkable”. The council had hoped to raise £70,000 from the increased charge. 

Cllr John said while the Conservatives are concerned at the 5.95 per cent council tax rise he felt it was “too late” to propose an amendment, with Welsh council’s having to agree budgets by the end of Friday, March 10, and to do so would be a “high stakes game”. 

The budget, including the council tax rise, was carried with all 21 Labour councillors present voting in its favour, three councillors voted against and the 18 member Conservative group abstained.