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Cabinet agrees budget

A BUDGET with a 1.95 per cent council tax rise and extra money for education and social care will be put before councillors in Torfaen for approval. 

The borough council’s Labour cabinet formally agreed its budget for the 2023/24 financial year when it met at Pontypool Civic Centre this morning. 
The budget also proposes a “one off” £500,000 increase in the £1.3 million management fee the authority pays to the Torfaen Leisure Trust the charity it established to run Pontypool Ski Slope, Cwmbran Stadium and three former council run leisure centres. 

The full council will be asked to approve the budget when it meets on February 28 when the council tax raise will also have to be formally agreed. 

Council leader Anthony Hunt said after the cabinet agreed its proposals: “I look forward to the budget debate in the council.” 
The Panteg councillor said though the budget has proposed only “minimal” implications on council services it has been produced under a financial squeeze facing the council and households due to rocketing energy bills and inflation. 
He said: “The pressures are huge; nearly £4m pressures on energy, £7m on pay and £4m on social care and a lot of these very large pressures have come after a situation over the last decade of very low inflation. It would have been very easy to panic in that situation and one of the very few reasons we got through austerity was low inflation.” 
The Labour councillor said it was “justifiable” those in the public sector who were “applauded during the pandemic” had “pointed out their pay had been eroded” and the council is putting an additional £826,000 saved due to a better than expected budget settlement from the Welsh Government towards the amount it holds for potential pay rises. 

Pay is outside of the council’s control as it is negotiated nationally and the council had previously, before it knew how much it would receive from the Welsh Government, agreed to increase the amount it holds to cover pay rises by 5.5 per cent meaning it has £8.5m to cover pay inflation and associated costs such as pensions. 
It also has funds in place to cover the £10.90 per hour real living wage for care workers, which is 48 pence more than the what the legal minimum for workers aged 23 and over will be from April. 

Cllr Hunt said council officers, had worked “collegiately” to draw up the budget and said: “There isn’t a sense of different parts of the council trying to fight each other for scare resources.” 
He said the 1.95 per cent council tax rise, which was set out as part of last year’s budget, is “several times lower than inflation and will mean it’s not another bill rising massively (for residents).” 
The council has also agreed to set aside £10m to cover the council tax reduction scheme. 
Funding delegated to schools will increase by £4.2m, to £73.7m with the council also using £1.9m from reserves to cover school energy costs while the social care and housing budget will increase by £4.5m to £58.7m. 

The council is also reshaping its reserves to give it more flexibility in how they are used.