PEMBROKESHIRE County Council’s leader has issued an open statement to all residents and businesses, warning of the “hardest ever” unprecedented financial situation faced by the council.
Members of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, meeting on February 12, are asked to recommend one of three options for a council tax increase, ranging 16.31 per cent, 18.94 per cent, and an eye-watering 20.98 per cent increase.
These increases would increase the annual council tax rate by £219.02, £254.34, and £281.73 respectively to the average Band D property.
Pembrokeshire is currently facing a projected funding gap of £31.9m, partly due to a lower-than-expected Provisional Local Government Settlement.
“Councillors will soon be faced with the difficult task of setting our budget for the following year, a budget that must ‘balance the books’ by law,” Leader Cllr David Simpson said.
“Every year the Welsh Government allocates funding for each local authority, and for 2024-25 Pembrokeshire will only receive a 2.5 per cent increase in that funding against a 14.4 per cent increase in service costs.
“The council has effectively dealt with the very same unprecedented cost-of-living issues that every householder and business in the county faces.
“However, on top of this we have also been faced with an unprecedented increase in demand for both adult and children’s social care that has added more than £23million in pressures.
“Five years ago, children’s social care costs made up six per cent of the overall budget but they are now more than 10.3 per cent, a 248 per cent increase in overall budget value.
“Social care and education costs now make up 78 per cent of overall pressures with social care costs exceeding education costs for the first time this year. In 2024/25 the budget for social care will be more than all other services combined (excluding schools.)
“There has also been a huge increase in the number of people needing temporary accommodation, from 78 in March 2019 to 507 in March 2023, resulting in a £1.145m pressure for 24/25, equating to a 78 per cent increase on existing budget.
“As we set this difficult budget, we also have to decide the level of Band D council tax increase needed to maintain services. A potential range of increases from £4.20 per week to £5.40 per week are needed to balance the budget and bridge the £31million funding gap. And even this will still require significant cuts to some council services.
“I, like all councillors, do not want to raise council tax when so many residents are already finding it harder to make ends meet in Pembrokeshire.
“The Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS) support available for those entitled to a reduced level of council tax remains, and I would urge anyone who thinks they may be eligible to find out more.
“We as a council will strive to make sure the final council tax increase is as small as possible but we must all be aware that this coming year will certainly be tough, the hardest ever faced by the council and the residents of Pembrokeshire.
“During the past decade, funding levels from UK Government to Welsh Government and on to councils have not kept pace with the ever-increasing pressures.
“Due to this, we have had to make significant budget savings of £96.7 million over this time, supported by your suggestions in our annual budget consultation. We have always endeavoured to minimise the impact to service users, especially the most vulnerable in our communities.
“Pembrokeshire County Council has been running efficiently – that is providing services with a lower Band D council tax level than others in Wales – but this will be harder and harder to maintain.
“Our staff do a tremendous job in running our leisure centres, collecting the bins, in teaching and in caring. Despite the difficult decisions to come, the focus on ‘Working together, Improving lives’, will be at the forefront of our minds.”