COUNCIL tax is likely to go up by 6.8% in Carmarthenshire after cabinet approved a revised budget and dropped a number of savings proposals.
A 7% council tax increase had originally been expected from April but leaders crunched the numbers again and considered more than 2,100 responses to a budget consultation.
A report before cabinet said the council’s energy bill for 2023-24 was now expected to be £8.4 million higher than this year, not £9.5 million, and that this combined with other adjustments gave the council an extra £1.79 million to use.
Full council will set the budget at a meeting on March 1 – the same day the Welsh Government is due to publish its final budget settlement. The authority is in line to receive £15.5 million more from Cardiff Bay than originally anticipated – 8.5% more than the current year – but, like all councils and society as a whole, faces severe inflationary pressures.
Speaking at the February 20 cabinet meeting, Cllr Alun Lenny, cabinet member for resources, said reducing the council tax rise to 6.8% had taken a huge effort.
“Believe me, I fully appreciate that this is another burden on residents, but I believe it strikes the right balance in terms of protecting vital services which our citizens rely upon and look to the council to deliver each and every day,” he said.
The 6.8% hike would mean a Band D council taxpayer paying £1,490.97p from April, although this doesn’t include the Dyfed-Powys Police precept or any community council precepts.
Council tax accounts for around a quarter of revenue – or day-to-day – expenditure. The authority’s net budget for 2023-24 is due to be £450.3 million, which is £34.5 million more than this year’s approved budget. The £450.3 million is to be funded by £338.4 from the Welsh Government and £111.9 million from council tax.
The nine savings proposals which have been shelved or deferred include:
– Deferring a £35,000 plan to close St Clears Leisure Centre or transfer it to a potential third party by one year, and using that time to try to set it on a viable financial path
– Reducing a £2.7 million cut to the delegated schools budget to £2 million
– Withdrawing a planned £100,000 cut in youth support services
– Withdrawing a planned £150,000 cut in a children and communities grant
– Deferring a “rising 4s” schools admission policy by one year to September 2025 to ensure wider consultation and more time to plan for any possible changes.
In addition, the Plaid Cymru-Independent administration will restrict a rise both in school meal prices and parking charges to 5%. Furthermore, an extra £262,000 will be spent cleaning town centres. But the council will need to make £8 million of savings.
Cllr Lenny said staff pay rises, including for teachers, were the biggest cost pressure and also the most uncertain. The council also has to fund an inflation-busting rise in the Mid and West Wales Fire Service levy for 2023-24 – a cost shared by all six councils which the service covers.
The authority received 2,161 responses to its budget consultation covering a wide range of views, and also received feedback from pupils from 10 schools.
The savings proposal which respondents strongly disagreed with the most was the £2.7 million schools budget cut, while charging commercial users to park at council-run car parks prompted the strongest support.
The survey also asked what level of council tax rise people would be willing to accept. The highest proportion – 42% – favoured a 5% increase. Much smaller proportions opted for hikes of up to 9%, but 23% of those who responded chose “other”.
Cllr Glynog Davies, who has the education portfolio, said many savings had been achieved as part of the budget revision and that he had fought for schools. But he added: “Every department has to take that hit this (coming) year.”