DESPITE huge and unprecedented financial pressures, it’s expected that the Council Tax increase in Carmarthenshire this year will be 2.5% – half the current rate of inflation.
The expected reduction is a direct response to Plaid Cymru councillors’ great concern about the administration’s provisional proposal of 4.45%, at a time when the cost of living is soaring.
“People are facing considerable hardship, so we’re determined to keep the council tax increase to the very minimum, without having to make savage cuts to services,” said Cllr Alun Lenny on behalf of the Plaid group. “This is immensely difficult as the financial pressures faced by the council in a pandemic are unprecedented.
“Inflation is at 5.4% and rising. Pay awards for council staff are currently budgeted at 4%. Fuel costs to heat schools, residential homes and other buildings, for refuse lorries etc, are likely to soar by 20%.
“On top of this, the UK Tory government’s 1.25% point increase in National Insurance will cost the council an extra £2.7m. And as the Labour Welsh Government’s £3m grant towards repairing roads ceases, the gap – like the potholes – has to be filled by the council.
“While we welcome the 9.2% Revenue Support Grant initial settlement by Welsh Government, it’s an umbrella which covers a host of unprecedented costs – including, after April, hardship fund payments relating to Covid, currently running at £2.5m a month.
“Obviously, we’d have preferred a council tax rise freeze, but that would have been totally irresponsible, as essential services like Social Care are already under the greatest pressure in our lifetime. Quite simply, people would die as a result of less funding.
“In view of all this, and following 12 years of underfunding due to the UK Conservative Government’s austerity policy, keeping the council tax increase to 2.5% would be a considerable achievement by this Plaid-led authority.”
The previous 4.45% was an interim estimate. The administration looked at the budget once again in its entirety, and updated its projections as grants under various headings came through from the Welsh Government. This can be a sporadic process, and the goalposts keep moving. Indeed, the final Revenue Support Grant settlement won’t come through until March 2 – a day before the County Council meets to set its budget.
Carmarthen Town Council, which is controlled by Plaid Cymru, has frozen its precept this year – as in most years for the past decade. Prudent management means that there won’t be any cuts to services by the council, which is responsible for the town cemetery, parks and playgrounds, the civic hall, a cycling velodrome, major events and so on.