Home » Rhondda Cynon Taf council tax to go up by 4.9% as authority faces £25m budget gap
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Rhondda Cynon Taf council tax to go up by 4.9% as authority faces £25m budget gap

Council Tax Generic

RESIDENTS in Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) will see their council tax bills go up by almost 5% after councillors approved the budget.

The 4.99% rise agreed is slightly up from the proposed 4.9% council tax hike as the authority tackles a £25m budget gap.

Cabinet members had agreed to recommend an extra 0.09% to protect public transport and an extra one-off fund of £500,000 for schools next year and this was approved by full council on Wednesday, March 6.

The council received an extra £1.95m from Welsh Government in its final funding settlement for next year on top of the 2.8% increase it received in the provisional budget.

The proposed council tax increase will add £1.03 per week for a person living in a band A property and £1.55 per week for a person living in a band D property but the council report said that 42% of properties in Rhondda Cynon Taf are Band A.

Increasing council tax by 4.99% will reduce the remaining budget gap by £1.12m, the report added.

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After absorbing non-pay inflationary costs, as all other council services needed to, schools will have to contribute to balancing the overall budget gap through a 1.1% cut (£2.91m).

Schools will be allocated funding next year to cover their pay pressures and the council will provide a further £1m base budget toward non-pay costs, plus the additional £500,000 one-off funding.

The council said the Welsh Government had not provided additional funding for the costs of increased teacher pay awards but costs associated with teachers’ pensions were still expected to be covered by the UK Government.

The report said this will see the schools budget increase by £12.4m for next year, or 6.6%.

With already agreed cuts totalling £10.7m, the budget gap is around £25.9m.

Here’s how the council is making savings:

Reduction in energy spend

The council is going to cut its energy spending by £4.47m. The current year increases for RCT’s energy costs were around 283% for gas and 147% for electricity.

At the time the council set the budget, forecasts were projecting lower costs for 2024-25, and an energy reserve of £5m was set up to fund any extra costs in 2023-24.

The spike in cost for the current year did happen, so the council said it was able to reduce its budget for next year. It also said the development of a proposed council-owned solar farm was progressing with completion anticipated during the 2024-25 financial year.

Childcare charge proposal

The council is charging £1 a day for childcare which is provided alongside free breakfast clubs and this will reduce the council’s budget by £495,000 in a full year which will be ring-fenced to be reinvested into the schools budget.

The charge will be £40 a term for those who used it three days a week and £60 for those who used it five days a week.

Fees and charges

The council’s fees and charges for 2024-25 will see a standard 5% increase, with some areas having individual proposals, and this will generate an extra £452,000.

Funding through capital rather than revenue spend

The council is going to fund some things which are currently paid for through revenue, via capital spending instead. These include IT software licence costs and vehicle purchases, which will result in a £500,000 revenue budget reduction.

Updates to the budget and efficiencies

The council said it will be able to cut spending by £1.33m as a result of some budget updates and officers had found £5.24m worth of efficiencies for next year.

Use of reserves 

Along with the extra £1.95m from the final settlement, these measures reduce the budget gap to £7.5m, which will be met through the use of the council’s transitional funding reserves.

The council said this reserve stood at £9.52m and it will use £7.5m of this to close the remaining budget gap, leaving £2.02m in this pot.

The view of the leader

Council leader Andrew Morgan said: “This year has probably been one of the toughest years in setting the budget.”

He said they’ve had really high inflation, pay growth and increasing demand on services.

Cllr Morgan said they’ve stripped out as many efficiency saving as they can with smaller cuts to services but big services will now have to be reconsidered and redesigned and may have to be stopped in the future unless there’s a change in direction.

He said councils run by different political groups have issued 114 notices (which indicate that a council’s forecast income is insufficient to meet its forecast expenditure) and they will see more unless there’s a change in direction.

He credited officers for the amount of work that had gone into the budget and said they had prioritised education and social care as well as statutory duties.

On council tax, he said although this is the highest recommended council tax rise since he’s been leader,  RCT will have the second lowest one in Wales.

He said: “Nobody likes putting council tax up. I pay it, my family pays it, everyone in this room will be paying it. If we could avoid council tax rises we would want to do that”.

He said services are being trimmed back not because money is being frittered away but because they’re doing their absolute best to protect areas like schools.

He said it’s the best they could do without having to really cut into other services adding “there are no easy alternatives” and if there were they would grab them with both hands.

Cllr Morgan said if they don’t manage their budget sustainably in the way they’re trying to do then the council would run out of money.
Opposition councillors respond

Cllr Andrew Morgan (Pic: RCT Council)

Councillor Sera Evans of Plaid Cymru said they wouldn’t support the budget as the council tax increase is “simply untenable”.

She said the group’s greatest concern is the increase in council tax and although it is less than those proposed by other councils, they have to acknowledge the increase will be “unaffordable” for many residents.

Cllr Evans said the Plaid Cymru group have “serious concerns” about the strategy and proposals including the consultation exercise itself with a response rate of 0.5% which she said is hardly representative and that they have to work harder to engage residents.

She also asked why pupils of only two schools were consulted with no Welsh medium schools included.

Cllr Evans said it’s the view of the Plaid Cymru that the flood prevention allocation from Welsh Government is “woefully inadequate”.

She said the group is supportive of the principle to protect public transport but would like further details on the specifics.

She added that Plaid Cymru support the increase of 6.6% to the schools budget but they are questioning the £495,000 being generated from charging for childcare provided before free school breakfast clubs.

Cllr Evans also raised concerns that the increase in bulky waste collection costs will lead to more fly-tipping and said that the Plaid group is “frankly puzzled” by the freeze in the lido charges and that a booking fee of 25p “just isn’t going to cut it.”

Councillor Cathy Lisles, RCT Independent Group, said she was relieved frontline services were not going to be significantly affected and that there are no cuts to jobs under operational decisions.

But she said there are three areas of concern relating to the additional childcare element of the breakfast clubs, lido ticketing and the reduction in Youth Engagement and Participation Service (YEPS) school-based provision.

She asked what monitoring would be done on additional costs of changes to the childcare provided before school breakfast clubs and what monitoring of the usage would be done.

On the YEPS provision, she said children and young people need this “third space” where they can form a sense of belonging and no increase in mobile vans can match having their own youth club and asked for this cut to be reviewed if extra funds become available.

On the lido, she said she’s concerned they’re not capitalising on this tourist attraction as well as they could and asked if the scale of fees for all users could be reviewed.

Councillor Sam Trask, leader of the Conservative group, said there can’t have been any easy decisions in setting this but said the group has concerns over the childcare proposals and school transport proposals, saying the council could be accused of targeting the youngest in society although Cllr Morgan said the school transport proposal is not part of this budget.

He mentioned the Barnett consequentials coming to the Welsh Government and said: “We can only live and hope that the Welsh Labour government will spend that on people not politicians.”

On section 114 notices, he said 50% of these had come from Labour-run councils and the Conservative councillors were elected on a mandate not to vote for any council tax increases so they wouldn’t support the budget.

Councillor Will Jones, Independent Group, thanked the council for coming up with a council tax rise of less than 5% and said it’s very difficult in these very difficult times adding they’d tried everything saying they’ve done an “amazing job” so they’d be supporting the budget.

There were 53 votes in favour of the budget, eight against and there was one abstention.

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