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Swansea proposed 5.95% council tax rise from April

HOUSEHOLDERS in Swansea are likely to face a council tax rise of 5.95% from April.

Council leader Rob Stewart said a third of this hike was due to an above-inflation increase in the Mid and West Wales Fire Service budget, which is funded from council budgets via a levy.
He said the council could have absorbed the additional £2.2 million levy cost but it would have meant closing several libraries or community centres, introducing monthly black bin bag collections, or charging for residents’ parking.

Cllr Stewart told a cabinet meeting that these were not things he or others wanted to do. The council is already targeting savings of £24.8 million for the coming financial year, although schools are expected to contribute £2.9 million towards this.
The Swansea Labour leader said the 5.95% council tax rise would still leave bills some £200 lower than those in neighbouring Neath Port Talbot, and that some other councils were proposing higher increases.
The 5.95% hike would mean Band D households in Swansea paying £1,549.08p in 2023-24 – up from £1,462.10p – plus the South Wales Police precept, which appears on council tax bills.
“We still remain in the middle of the table, we still remain cheaper than our neighbours,” said Cllr Stewart.

Cabinet approved a revised set of budget proposals which sprang no major surprises, although huge uncertainty remains over teacher salary increases and how they will be funded.
The revised proposals followed a public consultation and included a withdrawal of several savings. These included the shelving of legal service communications savings worth £300,000. Savings in the place – or environment – department of £90,000 were also dropped.

Cllr Stewart then announced that a halt would be called on a further eight or so cost-cutting measures worth £901,000. These related to Swansea Market rent charges, litter bins, proposed charges at a small number of outlying car parks which are currently free, and the decommissioning of a traffic management system called Nowcaster.
The budget, including council tax, will be set by full council early next month.

The authority is getting more Welsh Government funding than had originally been anticipated for 2023-24, but faces severe inflationary pressures.

It plans to spend £489 million on its core services. Schools will get around £189 million of this, social services around £157 million, and the place department around £63 million. Cllr Stewart said social services would be the biggest beneficiary in terms of a percentage increase.
The £17 million fire service levy, £39 million borrowing costs and other charges and adjustments raise the council’s revenue budget to £560 million. This will be funded by the Welsh Government settlement of £339 million, council tax of just over £140 million, a £79 million share of business rates, and community council tax of just under £2 million.
There will also be an ongoing draw of money held in reserve, including up to £15 million for an energy fund to help schools, leisure centres, council-run care homes and community centres from April.

Earlier in the meeting, Cllr Chris Holley presented the findings of scrutiny panels which have been examining the budget proposals. He said an expected reduction in 61 council posts was concerning, as were rises in parking charges totalling some £700,000.
CllrHolley said the extra money for social services was welcome, but that a planned 10% rise in social services charges for those eligible was a worry. He also said staffing was the “real problem here”, and cautioned against cutting staff numbers and using agency workers instead.

Cllr Stewart said all councils were finding recruitment a challenge, and that Swansea had a policy of reducing its use of agency staff.
He added that several of the 61 posts at risk were already vacant, and that parking charges in council-run car parks hadn’t gone up for eight years. He said parking promotions in the city had not been as successful as free bus travel on certain weekends.
The Labour leader also answered a claim from Alec Thraves, of Socialist Party Wales, that the council could as in previous years choose to pass a “no-cuts” budget in defiance of the UK Government, which holds the purse strings.
“It’s not a book-keeping exercise, it’s a political choice,” said Mr Thraves.

Cllr Stewart said he agreed in that the Conservatives were, in his view, “at the root of every problem” the council faced, but that a lawful and balanced budget had to be set.
“Nobody has come up with a description of a lawful, no-cuts budget,” he said.