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Neath Port Talbot Politics South Wales

Neath Port Talbot Council approves 7.9% council tax rise despite opposition

NEATH PORT TALBOT Council have approved their final budget for the 2024-25 financial year, despite opposition from members.

The proposals, which officers said came in the face of “unprecedented pressure on budgets and soaring demand for services” went before members at a meeting on March 7.

It included a 7.9% increase in council tax which a council spokesperson said came after “significant financial challenges” with the authority facing new cost pressures of approximately £30 million, while receiving only £8.6 million of additional funding from the Welsh Government.

The approved budget also included investments of £139.6 million into education and schools, £113.699 million into social services, housing and community safety, as well as £46.515 million for the environment and regeneration directorate.

As well as identifying  £8.8 million in savings and income generation proposals, there were also a number of amendments made from the first draft of the budget produced in December 2023, such as dropping plans to end contract agreements for public access to the Neath canal, along with amendments to the idea of switching off street lights at certain times, with lights now only expected to be dimmed in the small hours.

Speaking at the meeting Cllr Simon Knoyle said: “The main aim of this administration was to produce a balanced budget which set out to protect jobs and the services that are provided, and it is my firm belief that these recommendations and proposals contained within this budget do exactly that. We want to ensure that we continue to offer the best possible service that we can for all of the residents of Neath Port Talbot.”

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A council spokesperson added: “This has been the most difficult budget for this council since devolution but after an extensive review of all budgets across the council it has been delivered without the significant jobs and service cuts which are being seen in many other parts of Wales.”

However, the Labour leader for Neath Port Talbot, Rob Jones, asked for a recorded vote over the plans. He said: “This budget has much uncertainty in it and is of much risk to our communities, our workforce, and future financial stability as a council, let alone the ability to deliver it. It is full of assumptions and targets that can’t be guaranteed.”

The former leader of the council also questioned the current coalition’s use of reserves, and raised concerns over how school budgets and reserves would fair in the current financial climate.

Other criticism from Labour members came over the council’s decision to delay bringing Celtic Leisure back in- house under council control until April 2025 at the earliest, though cabinet members gave assurances that this was still a priority.

The budget was later passed by members after a vote, which saw 31 vote in favour of the proposals with 23 against and two abstentions.