MEMBERS of Neath Port Talbot’s coalition council are preparing to deliver their final budget for 2023-24 next week, describing the process as a “huge challenge” given the current financial crisis.
With proposals that include an increase in council tax of 4.5% and a number of other savings measures such as closing five council-run buildings, members of the coalition believe they have delivered one of the strongest budgets in Wales, focused on protecting vital services and safeguarding hundreds of jobs.
The current proposals, which would see the 4.5% increase in council tax, mean residents living in band A to C homes, the vast majority in Neath Port Talbot, would pay between 96p and £1.28 extra each week for essential services.
It would also see a like-for-like increase in the delegated schools budget of 8% or £7.64 million, and an increase to the social services budget of 15% or £13.8 million.
The authority would also continue with plans to bring leisure services in the borough back under council control, supporting the project with £1.4 million worth of specific council reserves, and protecting around 400 jobs.
A further £3.5 million of the council’s general reserves would also be used to balance the budget this year, with the authority saying it would help avoid any job losses or cuts to services.
Council leader Steve Hunt said: “It’s been a real learning curve for us as a new coalition as there are challenges not only due to these difficult times, but because we have so many different groups here with strong views and opinions.
“It’s probably one of the most difficult periods to change administrations, but that’s what the electorate gave and I think we have done a good job of it in a short period of time.”
Cabinet member for finance, Simon Knoyle, added: “This budget has been a huge challenge for us, but it has also been very exciting to try and get it so that it’s the best for all the residents of Neath Port Talbot.”
The proposals followed a formal consultation with the public where almost 1,000 people gave feedback across the borough, and as a result proposed that a 10% rise in fees and charges should be cut to 5% for some services.
Other areas of savings in the budget could come in the form of reduced energy consumption, potentially in the form of street lighting, as well as maximising savings from hybrid working.
Chief executive Karen Jones said: “I think this has been by far the most difficult budget we’ve had to set since 1996, with the sheer scale of the savings and the time scales which we’ve had to pull together proposals.
“What we need to do is make sure we give security to the staff that we employ so they can work alongside us to come forward with proposals that will enable us to maintain essential services at the same time as balancing the budget.”
Labour leader for Neath Port Talbot, Rob Jones, said: “All councils are facing challenges at the moment and Neath Port Talbot is no different. We would have liked more clarity with proposals, and it will be disappointing to increase council tax this year, but we can appreciate that we are in difficult financial times. As the Labour party we feel we left administration last year in a very good position, with the opportunity to propose using reserves.”
Final decisions on the budget will now be made by the cabinet on March 1 ,2023, before going before a meeting of the full council the next day.