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Swansea Council warns of new charges/fees and service reductions

Swansea Council's Guildhall headquarters (Pic: Richard Youle)

THE LEADER of Swansea Council has warned “there just isn’t enough money in the system” as finance chiefs try to plot their way to a balanced budget.

Councillor Rob Stewart said he was hopeful of some additional last-minute funding from central government before the 2024-25 budget is set in early March but he told a council scrutiny panel meeting: “The numbers are terrible at the present time.”

The authority spends more than £500m a year on its core services, such as schools, social care and waste collection.

Most of that money comes from central government, and the good news is that it is in line to receive £15.3m – or 3.7% – more next year than currently.

But a report before the panel said this was a long way from meeting pay and inflation pressures, which have been estimated at an eye-watering £51.1m and are mostly outside of the council’s control.

To meet the shortfall, the plan is to increase council tax by £10.9m and add that to the £15.3m cash uplift from government. That leaves £24.9m, which will be met by cutting costs and increasing charges like burial fees.

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Finance chiefs have not published a proposed council tax rise in percentage terms at this stage but will do in the coming weeks. The report said the Welsh Government, in its deliberations, assumed councils would need to raise council tax by 6.8%.

Schools in Swansea are to shoulder nearly half of the £24.9m savings total but will also receive more money in 2024-25 than this year, partly through a one-off use of council reserves.

The net increase for schools, which takes into account the savings requirement, is likely to be £11.9m – plus a further £5m if staff pension costs are funded centrally.

“Education remains our top funding priority,” said Cllr Stewart.

Cutting costs for any organisation impacts jobs, and 28 council posts – excluding schools – are at risk due to the need for savings, but some of them are currently vacant.

Cllr Stewart said: “I’m confident that we will avoid compulsory redundancies, but I can’t give an absolute guarantee.”

Dozens of individual savings measures – totalling £12.7m – have been proposed, which the Swansea Labour leader described as pragmatic. These include a £179,000 reduction in library staff costs, and a £600,000 saving in the education department.

Increases in fees and charges will do much of the heavy lifting to hit the £12.7m target.

These include a 5% hike in burial and cremation fees, bringing in an extra £137,000, and higher catering service charges for schools, raising an additional £400,000.

The council also plans to step up its enforcement of traffic offences and operate another camera enforcement car, bringing in an extra £193,000.

Councillor Mary Jones said many of the savings proposals, such as a £62,000 corporate marketing restructure, didn’t provide sufficient detail and that the public wouldn’t understand them. She said: “They’re just headlines.”

Panel members also asked questions about the high cost of school transport and the continuing use of reserves to cushion financial pressures, among other things.

A public consultation about the budget continues, and cabinet will set out final proposals at a meeting on February 15 before full council sets the budget, including council tax, on March 7.

Panel convenor, Councillor Chris Holley, said he fully expected that the panel would be able to scrutinise the final budget proposals before the budget was set.