RESIDENTS living in a typical band D home in Torfaen are set see their council tax bills increase by £28.26 from April.
The borough council is planning to again increase council tax by 1.95 per cent this year as part of its budget, having already stated its intention to do so as part of the financial plan it agreed in March 2022.
The council’s Labour cabinet will meet to finalise its budget plans, which will have to be approved by the full council, on Tuesday, February 14, at Pontypool Civic Centre.
Despite neighbouring authorities having to consider cuts to save millions of pounds, Torfaen is free of such immediate pressures this financial year and deputy chief executive Nigel Aurelius will inform councillors: “The report outlines an affordable budget, with minimal service implications.”
Council tax bills for band D properties stood at £1,449.18 following last year’s £27.72 increase. The council says the latest rise works out at 54p per week. Community council and Gwent Police precepts will still have to be added on top to give the full amount householders must pay.
The cabinet is being recommended to use reserves to “cushion” the impact of inflation and energy price rises on schools and across the council, which is described as a “one-off” move.
Mr Aurelius has justified the use of reserves as his report says: “It does not seem correct to make cuts to services to mitigate what may be a temporary situation.”
Due to better than expected funding from the Welsh Government, which meant the council hasn’t had to find the £12 million savings it feared last November, it will provide extra support to schools due to increased Additional Learning Needs demand.
It will put an extra £150,000 towards Additional Learning Needs provision in schools which it says will maintain 2022/23 funding levels but the cash is subject to the results of a “moderation exercise of pupil numbers”.
It has also updated its plans on how to use any spare cash if the pay awards it has budgeted for do not materialise.
As pay is negotiated nationally and beyond the council’s control it had already agreed to increase the amount it sets aside by 5.5 per cent. The cabinet is being advised to hold the extra £826,000, that is available now it knows its financial position, within the budget allocated for pay.
The report states: “To ensure continued prudence in light of the wider current position and the high profile of ongoing pay disputes in other sectors, that this residual resource is held as a pay contingency, over and above the 5.5 per cent, until the picture becomes clearer.”
Should the cash not be required to cover pay rises it is proposed to use it to reduce the amount taken from reserves to cover energy price rises.
The cabinet is also being asked to approve a £500,000 one off increase in the £1.3 million annual management fee it pays to the Torfaen Leisure Trust and to maintain the discretionary housing payments budget, which is used to prevent people falling into homelessness, at the current level of £424,000.
This year’s sum had used £100,000 from the Covid recovery fund, that is no longer available, and without it would only stand at £329,000, though the Westminster Department of Work and Pensions has yet to state how much it will allocate to the fund this year.
It is intended to maintain the fund due to the cost-of-living crisis but the report says the council will work with registered social landlords to prepare for a return to “more normal levels of funding in 2024/25.”
The council is also updating the medium term financial plan, set last year, and through the next four years it expects financial pressures and increased costs of £27.2 million but that is partly off-set by assumed additional funding from the Welsh Government of £19.3 million over the same period and council tax increases of two per cent each year.
Project Apollo is the council’s programme to address its medium term financial demands which officers are already working on.