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Torfaen Council tax approved

COUNCILLORS in a Gwent borough have passed what has been described as one of the lowest council tax rises in the United Kingdom.

The 1.95 per cent increase works out as an additional £28.26 on last year’s bill for a typical band D home and means the average household in Torfaen will pay £1,477.44 for the county council element of the community charge from April.

In contrast the four other county councils in Gwent, which like Torfaen are all Labour run, have either passed, or are proposing, increases ranging from 3.45 per cent in Blaenau Gwent, 5.95 in Monmouthshire, 7.9 per cent in Caerphilly through to 8.5 per cent in Newport.

Councillor Sue Morgan, Torfaen’s cabinet member for resources, recommended the council tax rise and the council’s £228.2 million budget for 2023/24 to the full council at its meeting at Pontypool Civic Centre on Tuesday, February 28.

The Cwmbran Pontnewydd councillor said: “We have set one of the lowest council tax rises in the UK.”

The Labour councillor said the authority had been supported by the Labour government in Cardiff Bay “which recognises the importance of local government” and said major cuts to services had been avoided “despite the Tories being determined to shipwreck the UK economy” and at a time of rising inflation, particularly energy costs, and the impact of the war in Ukraine.

A back bench Labour councillor praised the budget and said previous prime minister, Liz Truss, had made a “ham fisted attempt to blow up the economy”.

There are no Conservative elected in Torfaen and no councillors spoke to defend the UK governing party.

Torfaen will use £4.38m from its reserves to support spending this year, particularly energy costs which finance officer Nigel Aurelius said he had recommended as opposed to making cuts to cope with what he anticipates will be a temporary “spike” in prices.

Cllr Morgan said: “We have closed the gap without cutting services and only a minimal rise in council tax but there is more to do in the medium term.”

Mr Aurelius said work will be taking place over the coming months to address the £27.2m spending gap identified over the next four years.

This year’s budget allocates an extra £4.3m to schools, and an additional £600,000 to deal with rising energy prices, and provides additional funding for adult social care and money for carers to be paid £10.90 an hour, which is above the legal minimum.

Council leader Anthony Hunt, who represents Panteg, described Torfaen as “well on our way from near the bottom of the education funding league table to nearer the top” but had to “emphasis” there is a “big job” to do on the medium term financial planning.

Had the council introduced a five per cent increase in council tax, Cllr Hunt said that would have been an additional £50 to £70 extra charge for households.

Independent councillor Alan Slade said he was encouraged medium term cuts appear focused on back office functions.

The Llantarnam member said he was concerned while overall funding from the Welsh Government had increased other grants were being reduced but said: “I’m encouraged by the modest council tax increase and sensible planning over the next five years.

“The strategy set out gives me some encouragement the right areas are being looked at in future years and for the first time in many years I will be supporting this budget.”

Abersychan councillor Chris Tew, leader of the largest opposition, the Independent Group, said its four members had discussed the budget and would be supporting it while Torfaen Independent Group leader, Two Locks councillor Ron Burnett, said the budget “could have been a lot worse”.

Some 9,200 households will also benefit from a council tax reduction scheme and there are also discounts such as for single people and information on support will be included with bills.

Once precept charges for Gwent Police and local town and community councils, which vary by area, are added Torfaen’s most expensive band D bills will be £1,896.69 in Blaenavon and the lowest £1,828.45 in Ponthir.