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Carmarthenshire council tax likely to go up by 7.5% after deferring cuts

COUNCIL chiefs in Carmarthenshire say they have listened to residents and now intend to defer some savings planned for 2024-25, but it would mean council tax being higher than envisaged.

The council had been proposing a 6.5% council tax rise to help mitigate significant wage and inflationary pressures in the light of what some have seen as a modest settlement from the Welsh Government. The figure is now likely to be 7.5%.

Cllr Alun Lenny, cabinet member for resources, said: “We’re in a constant state of fire-fighting to maintain as high a level as possible of essential services for residents, balanced against an inevitable council tax rise.”

Nearly 4,300 people responded to an online consultation about the council’s 2024-25 budget proposals and the new plan is to postpone savings of nearly £2 million until the following year. The deferred savings proposed are:

  • £1 million from the delegated schools budget
  • More than £400,000 of cuts to highways and drainage maintenance budgets
  • A £210,000 funding cut for public toilets
  • A £100,000 reduction to the youth support service
  • A £100,000 reduction to the music service budget.

However, deferring savings costs money and unless the council was to draw more money from reserves, or there were further hikes in a raft of charges like burial fees, the shortfall would need to come from council tax. Cabinet will debate the latest proposals, including the 7.5% council tax rise, at a public meeting on February 19 before full council sets the budget in the following days.

The consultation included a visit from 66 secondary pupils to County Hall, Carmarthen, where they outlined their spending priorities to cabinet members. All those taking part in the consultation have been thanked by Cllr Lenny, of Plaid, but he warned that the proposed deferral of the cuts outlined above would be a temporary reprieve, and that the coming years looked bleak financially.

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The Welsh Government settlement provides around 75% of total expenditure by councils on services such as education and social care, compared to 25% coming from council tax.

The 3.3% increase in the settlement for Carmarthenshire for 2024-25 is below inflation and, according to the Plaid-Independent administration, far from what is required to tackle increasing costs and demand for often complex and expensive services like children’s social care. Cllr Lenny said: “Despite this, the council has a legal responsibility to set a balanced annual budget by ensuring that income covers its expenditure.”

Cllr Deryk Cundy, Carmarthenshire Labour group leader, said: “We have had little time to consider these yet-to-be-agreed last-minute proposals, and they are a concern to us.

“Although they may save some services for a year, they are not addressing the underlying problems that Carmarthenshire faces. This is in fact the same year-in year-out budget that we have seen for the past nine years, trying to manage with less, strangling our services and asking our constituents to pay more, many of whom are struggling.

“We were led to believe that the rise was to be 6.3%, already worrying for many of our residents, but now it has escalated again.”

Two of Wales’s 22 councils are proposing double-digit council tax hikes, and only four are planning rises of less than 5%. It’s possible the figures could change if the Welsh Government announces some 11th-hour funding increases.