Whilst proposed reductions to the authority’s delegated schools’ budgets and public convenience budget remain, Cabinet members will be asked to consider deferring the full brunt of the cuts for those budgets to 2025/26. In addition to this, Cabinet will also debate whether to increase council tax by 7.5%, to avoid cutting certain services, such as highways.
In preparing yet another very challenging budget, Carmarthenshire County Council invited the public and other interested parties to express their views on, for example, council tax increase, staffing budget, household waste recycling centres, educational transport, public conveniences, educational and youth provision. Almost 4,300 people responded to the online consultation, and 66 young people from the county’s secondary schools attended a face-to-face event at County Hall to discuss with Cabinet Members and express their priorities.
In response to the public consultation, it’s recommended to make the following changes to the Council’s Budget proposals:
A proposed council tax rise of 7.5%. Just 25% of the Council’s £470 million Net Revenue Budget comes from the Council Tax. The remaining balance comes from the annual Welsh Government Revenue Support grant and the National Non-Domestic Rates.
Defer a £1 million saving from the delegated schools budget into 2025/26.
Deferring a £210,000 reduction of funding to the Council’s public conveniences budget until 2025/26, pending asset transfer option consultation.
Deferring a £100,000 reduction to the Youth Support Service until 2025/26.
Deferring a £100,000 reduction to the Music Service budget until 2025/26.
Deferring more than £400,000 of reductions to highways and drainage maintenance budgets until 2025/26
Carmarthenshire County Council, like all local authorities, is facing unprecedented financial pressures. Factors, which include the rate of inflation flatlining and consequently higher than anticipated pay awards for council workers and teachers, coupled with an extraordinary increased demand for services in fields like social, adult and children care, have presented a significant shortfall in its 2024/25 budget.
Following the Welsh Government’s below-inflation funding settlement of 3.3%, announced on December 20, the Council needs to bridge a shortfall of over £22million in its 2024/25 budget.
Welsh Government acknowledged that they faced the “most stark and painful budget choices for Wales in the devolution era” as they prepared their draft budget, which includes the all-important Revenue Support Grant (RSG) allocated to local authorities. The 3.3% rise in the RSG, which makes up around three-quarters of Carmarthenshire County Council’s funding, falls well short of the contribution needed by the Council to maintain services as they are at present. Most of the remaining income, amounting to about a quarter of the total annual revenue budget, comes from the Council Tax, which raises over £120 million a year.
The Council has a legal responsibility to set a balanced annual budget, by ensuring that income from sources such as the RSG, the Council Tax, paid-for services and grants is enough to cover its expenditure.
Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr. Alun Lenny said: “The huge pressure on local councils due to inadequate funding of public services has increased year on year for over a decade, and is now at an unprecedented level. In Carmarthenshire, we’re about £120m worse off than we were in 2010. That’s £120m less to spend on social care, schools, highways etc. This year’s Revenue Support Grant allocation, upon which we depend for 75% of our income, increased by 3.3%, which is below inflation and comes nowhere near meeting our increased costs.
“Despite this, the council has a legal responsibility to set a balanced annual budget by ensuring that income covers its expenditure. The alternative would be bankruptcy, as has happened to several councils in England. That has resulted in hundreds of job losses and huge council tax hikes.
“That can only be avoided by making unpalpable budget decisions. We’re in a constant state of firefighting to maintain as high a level as possible of essential services for resident, balanced against an inevitable council tax rise.
“I’m grateful to the 4,300 residents who responded to the consultation and the young people who filled the Council Chamber to tell us what’s important to them. Based on the responses, the Cabinet discussed at great length the options we’d presented to the public, and propose allocating an extra £2m to defer cuts in several services, as noted above.
“Although this alleviates the situation somewhat for this year, it pains me to say that the coming couple of years look bleak for all councils as the pressure on public spending looks set to increase. But whatever happens, I can assure the people of Carmarthenshire that we will do our utmost to protect the essential services upon which we all depend.”
Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet will meet on Monday, 19 February 2024 to consider the 2024/25 Budget Proposal before it will be presented to Full Council on Wednesday, 28 February 2024.
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