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Pembrokeshire council tax rise ‘could lead to failed budget’

Pembrokeshire County Council

A PROPOSED 16.3 per cent council tax increase in Pembrokeshire could see the council failing to set a budget for the next financial year, the county’s main opposition group has warned.

At the February meeting of the county council’s Cabinet, members backed a recommended council tax increase in Pembrokeshire of 16.3 per cent.

The proposed increase, which will be decided by full council at its March 7 meeting, would see the basic council tax level – before town/community precepts and the police precept are included – rise by £219.02 for the average Band D property, taking it to £1,561.98.

It is expected to be the highest percentage rate in Wales, on top of previous increases of 12.5 per cent, 9.92 per cent, five per cent, 3.75 per cent, five per cent and 7.5 per cent.

Councillor Huw Murphy, on behalf of the independent group on Pembrokeshire County Council says a similar 16.3 per cent rate is also being proposed for the 2025-26 to 2027-28 financial years, despite a proposal at the February 2023 Cabinet, ahead of that year’s budget, to increase the rate by 7.5 per cent annually.

Newport and Dinas county councillor Huw Murphy (Pic: Pembrokeshire County Council)

In a letter to Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack, Cllr Murphy says that 16.3 per cent annual increase would lead, over the following years, to future basic Band D rates of £1,816.60, £2,112.89, and £2,457.50.

He adds: “The need to consider imposing a higher than 7.5 per cent council tax for 2024/25 will be debated and voted upon on March 7.

However, I currently see no justification to also recommend a 16.31 per cent council tax rise for the following three years.

“If we go down this path, I foresee significant community tension and disengagement between residents and PCC, and a brief glance at social media over the last week will confirm this.”

He said the proposed increase was not just a concern for his political group.

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“There is huge concern by a majority of councillors across the whole chamber with regards to the proposed 16.31 per cent rise in council tax for 2024/25 and I am gravely concerned at your desire to now factor in an annual 16.31 per cent council tax rise into the Medium Term Financial Plan (until 2027).”

He warned: “I do not want to see this authority reject a budget and the consequences this will bring upon officers and ourselves.

“However, in life we sometimes have to make decisions that appear controversial, possibly unthinkable, but if done in the best interests of our residents then that is what has to be done, and your recommended council tax rise of 16.31 per cent is taking us to this point.

“Through many recent conversations it’s clear your council tax proposals need to be reduced by a significant percentage to have the support of council on March 7.

“Therefore, should council fail to agree a budget on March 7 through the loyalty of the majority of councillors to the people of Pembrokeshire in defending them from an unaffordable council tax rise; then you as Cabinet lead for finance, along with the Leader [Cllr David Simpson] and other Cabinet members must bear full responsibility, and with it the consequences, as all Cabinet members voted for a 16.31 per cent council tax rise in 2024/25 and the recommendation of an annual 16.31 per cent council tax rise into the MTFP.”

Cllr Cormack responded by saying the 16.3 per cent increase is for the 2024-25 budget only, with increases for the remainder of the medium-term financial plan not discussed at the Cabinet meeting, modelling instead based on the 7.5 per cent figure.

“The 16.3 per cent increase in council tax for 2024-25 is necessary to achieve a sustainable budget throughout the MTFP,” said Cllr Cormack.

“I will also point out that it is the joint responsibility of all 60 Councillors to set a balanced budget on March 7.”