CONTROVERSIAL plans to seek an alternative operator for St David’s Hall and increase council tax by 3.95% in Cardiff have been approved.
Cardiff Council met at City Hall on Thursday March 9 to discuss and vote on the authority’s budget proposals for 2023/24.
Some of the other budget proposals that were voted through by the council include an increase in the cost of school meals by 5% and plans to close recycling centres once a week.
It is hoped that the council’s measures will help it to bridge a £24 million budget gap, which has come about as a result of spiralling inflation, increased demand on services and lower than expected income levels.
An idea to move the Museum of Cardiff from its current home at the Old Library on the Hayes and turn it into a mobile attraction was taken out of the council’s final budget proposals, as were plans to change library opening times.
Amendments to the budget were put forward by the main opposition groups at the council, with the Conservatives calling for a council tax freeze and the Liberal Democrats putting forward a proposal to shelve plans for the new arena which is planned for Cardiff Bay.
Both amendments lost, but they stirred a lot of debate in the council chamber around some of the key points of the council’s budget. Here’s what the different groups had to say.
Conservatives alternative budget
Cllr Jayne Cowan, who moved the Conservative group’s alternative budget, said continued council tax rises “simply must stop”, adding: “Services are declining, and we are not providing value for money to the hard working taxpayer.”
The group said use of the council’s reserves should be used to fund a council tax freeze and that £200,000 could be generated by letting out spare space at County Hall.
They also proposed privatising waste collection and transferring £500,000 from the strategic cycleway improvement programme into the bus corridor improvement scheme.
Speaking on their proposals, group leader Cllr Adrian Robson, said: “Waste management in this city is not working. We have to do something else and we believe the private sector is the answer.”
He added: “We desperately need to support the bus industry and infrastructure in our city.”
There were a number of Conservative councillors were opposed to continued spending on plans for the new arena for Cardiff Bay.
Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless said she did “not want council tax to go up even more in future budgets to pay interest on Council borrowing for an Arena”, adding that she sees it as being “too financially risky”.
Commenting on the Conservative group’s alternative budget, Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for finance, Modernisation and Performance, Cllr Chris Weaver said: “You have proposed a freeze, but you are doing so paying for it mostly out of reserves.”
He added that the councils is “already using the prudent level of reserves that we should” and called the Conservative group’s proposal to use an extra £4 million from the reserves “a fool’s proposal”.
On waste collection, cabinet member for climate change, Cllr Caro Wild, said “I am absolutely happy to say that there are improvements to be made in any of these services and I will go hard in and detailed with the officers to see how we can improve it.”
He said comments around privatising waste collection rang “alarm bells” for him, adding: “it is about zero hour contracts, its about minimum wages, its about taking away the rights that you have, that many of us are lucky to have, from working class people.”
Liberal Democrats alternative budget
Instead of a council tax freeze, the Liberal Democrats proposed a slightly more modest 3.5% council tax rise as part of their alternative budget.
On top of this, the group said they wanted to provide free school transport to children living two and a half miles away from their school instead of three, invest £100,000 in setting up a homelessness task force and scrap the proposed 5% increase in cost for school meals.
Former group leader of the Liberal Democrats group at Cardiff Council, Cllr Rhys Taylor, said: “We re constantly told to wait for a rainy day, but for msot people across Cardiff it is already pouring.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Joe Carter said his group wanted to use money saved from shelving the arena plans to invest more in bus corridors, roads and pavements.
He added: “We have raised concerns about this time and time again about the cost, about the benefit, about the changing dynamics and changing need for this in our city.
“We are told time and time again that Cardiff desperately needs a bigger venue… and yet we are a regular destination on the international music scene every year.”
The Cardiff Bay arena, which the council say is primarily developer funded, will receive £220.1 million in capital investment through its five year capital programme.
Labour Cllr Ashley Lister defended his group’s continued investment in the arena project which he said “is going to bring economic impact into this city, bring businesses in, bring visitors in so that we can create a vibrant economy.”
Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for investment and development, Cllr Russell Goodway, said the Liberal Democrats group had a “short memory indeed” in relation to Cllr Carter’s comments on the arena.
He said: “The Lib Dem administration, between 2004 and 2008, is the only administration in the history of this council to set aside funds specifically in a ring-fenced fund to build an indoor arena.”
Other voices in the chamber
The other political group at City Hall to comment on the council’s budget was the Plaid Cymru, Green Party, Common Ground group.
Cardiff Council ward member for Pentyrch and St Fagans, Cllr Andrea Gibson, spoke for herself and fellow ward councillor, Cllr Rhys Livesy, when she said: “On behalf of Pentyrch and St Fagans we should point out that in fact our constituents are already feeling a little left out.
“We feel like the proposals to possibly pay the highest tax in the city, coupled with seemingly being the last on the list for a few things, indeed the last on the list or never for the foreseeable future for over due long term transport solutions, together with costly bus services, are not part of the right course of action for our ward.
“I would also like to highlight the desperate need to develop Creigiau Primary School. It is at the moment a category D but only because it has had a few porter cabins put in and yet it still delivers in excellent education.
“We have got to say with the budget, we are really pleased to see less shyness on environmental issues.
“We do feel though that perhaps the ambition doesn’t seem to be large enough. Where are the improved public transport and the more ambitious energy projects?”
Cllr Gibson added: “We will be there watching and taking note of everything.”