Home » Council tax to rise by 6.8% in Carmarthenshire as £450.3m revenue budget agreed
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Council tax to rise by 6.8% in Carmarthenshire as £450.3m revenue budget agreed

CARMARTHENSHIRE Council has agreed how it will spend £450.3 million on day-to-day services in the coming financial year, amid a warning that a staff pay offer has “blown a hole” in the budget.

Councillor Alun Lenny, cabinet member for resources, said the timing of the publication of the national pay offer just last week was “shocking” because councils were on the cusp of setting their budgets.

He said the offer – made by an employer group representing councils in Wales, England and Northern Ireland – would add an extra £3 million to Carmarthenshire Council’s 2023-24 budget.

The authority is already facing severe inflationary pressures, which means that it would cost £30.3 million more next year to do the same things as this year.

Members of full council have now agreed to spend £450.3 million in 2023-24 – nearly £35 million more than currently – while saving £8 million at the same time.

The council is receiving an additional £15.5 million from the Welsh Government but will also raise council tax by 6.8% – meaning a Band D council taxpayer will pay £1,490.97p. But this doesn’t include the Dyfed-Powys Police precept, which is going up by 7.75%.

“Believe me, I fully appreciate that 6.8% will be another burden on residents,” said Cllr Lenny. But he said he felt it struck the right balance in ensuring the continued delivery of “vital” council services.

The net £450.3 million budget will be funded by a £276.4 million Welsh Government settlement, £111.9 million in council tax, and a £62 million share of business rates.

Cllr Lenny said uncertainty over pay awards for council staff and teachers posed the “greatest risk factor” in terms of finances.

The Plaid-Independent administration held a public consultation about its budget proposals in December and January, and received more than 2,000 responses.

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Cllr Lenny said it also held budget talks with Labour opposition leaders “for the first time ever”, and that he was grateful for the input of Labour leader, Councillor Rob James, and shadow cabinet member for resources, Councillor Kevin Madge.

Several savings proposals were subsequently withdrawn or altered, including a reduction in a cut to the schools budget from £2.7 million to £2 million, the withdrawal of a planned £100,000 cut in youth support services, and a deferral of £35,000 plan to close St Clears Leisure Centre or transfer it to a potential third party.

In addition, increases in school meal prices and parking charges will be 5%, less than initially proposed, and an extra £262,000 will be spent cleaning town centres.

Labour’s Cllr Madge said the talks with the administration were like a breath of fresh air – not that the two sides agreed on everything.

Cllr Madge said the 2023-24 budget was one of the most difficult in nearly 30 years. Although he welcomed the extra money coming from the Welsh Government he said it wasn’t enough, and he pointed the finger at the “incompetent” Conservative Government in Westminster.

Cllr Madge said Labour was concerned that parking charges would increase by 5%, that some street bins would be removed, and that some packages of care for people in need would be reduced to save money.

Cllr James welcomed the cross-party meetings and said they had resulted in significant improvements to the budget and Labour policies being adopted.

The Labour leader said he would push for a “rationalisation” of council office space. “This authority no longer needs a large number of large offices we have dotted around the county,” he said.

Cllr James also called for the publication of a long-awaited review of schools in Carmarthenshire by the administration to be concluded quickly.

Cabinet member for education and Welsh language, Councillor Glynog Davies, said the schools budget cut was the first in his six years as a cabinet member, but that separate pots of money to help services deal with rising energy bills and other inflationary pressures would actually benefit schools by £8 million in 2023-24.

He said: “There’s money going into schools – £2 million less in one pocket, but another £8 million in another pocket.”

The budget for the three largest departments in 2023-24 is £200.7 million for schools and the education department, £131.3 million for the communities department – which includes social services – and £70.6 million for the environment department.

Other councillors who spoke at the budget meeting included Martyn Palfreman and Tina Higgins, who were worried about a cut in bin numbers and the effect of savings on those most in need, while Councillor John James said there were “very few opportunities to do things differently to save money” from now on.

Cllr Lenny said the removal of up to 20% of council street bins were aimed at those in lay-bys, that councillors would be consulted before any bins were removed in their areas, and that the protection of the vulnerable was “more than a priority for us”.

He was also critical of the Westminster Government, and added: “Only by having additional powers (in Wales) on the economy and energy can we come out of this hole in the long term.”

The budget proposals were approved in a vote, with Labour councillors abstaining.