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Councillors in Rhondda Cynon Taf approve next year’s budget with council tax rise

Rhondda Cynon Taf has approved its budget for next year with a council tax rise.

Funding for public health and flood protection, free car parking and a continuation of business rates relief are included in the council’s budget for 2021/2022.

A council tax rise of 2.65% was approved by councillors at a meeting of full council on Wednesday, March 10.

The provisional Welsh Government settlement announced in December which was confirmed earlier this month saw RCT’s funding increase by 3.8% which is the average increase across Wales with

This uplift includes the teachers pay grant which is £328,000 for RCT and there is a increase in the social care workforce grant included in the settlement.

Also included is £206m for councils in Wales in respect of extending the Local Government Hardship Fund for six months to provide support to councils for additional costs and income losses due to the pandemic.

After taking into account the updated budget requirement and the provisional
settlement increase of 3.8% as well as the increased funding in respect
the social care workforce grant and the council’s updated tax base, the
council was faced with a remaining budget gap of £4.05m.

Council tax, schools and fees and charges proposals

The proposed increase increase in council tax equates to 51p per week for a person living in a Band A property and 76p per week for a person living in a Band D property.

The council said that 42% of properties in Rhondda Cynon Taf are Band A and that increasing council tax by 2.65% will increase the remaining budget gap by £182,000.

For schools, the council is proposing to increase the schools budget cover all inflationary and pupil number pressures.

The proposal sees the schools budget increase by £2.2m, from £161.6m to £163.8m.

The report said there is no efficiency target or expectation albeit schools may need to take local action to absorb the financial implications of decisions taken locally.

The council has also identified £4.6 million worth of cuts it can make in next year’s budget which it said will not impact on front-line services.

In terms of fees and charges, there would be a standard increase of 1.7% apart from in certain areas.

Fees and charges for leisure, car parks and summer and winter playing fields and 3G pitches would be frozen.

Meals on wheels and day centre meal prices would go up by 10p per meal but then be frozen until 2023 and school meal prices would continue to be frozen until 2023.

Bereavement fees would be frozen and so would prices for visiting the Pontypridd Lido and Rhondda Heritage Park.

These proposals for fees and charges would cost £187,000.

Areas of investment

The main areas where the council is planning to invest in these budget proposals include:

  • To continue with the local business rate reduction scheme for 2020/2021 which provided a further relief of £300 per qualifying business and increase it to £350 per qualifying business for next year. This will cost the council £50,000.
  • Free car parking after 3pm on Monday to Fridays and free all day (after 10am) on Saturdays to encourage people to visit town centres and aid businesses’ recovery. The cost of this proposal in terms of income is £160,000
  • A core base budget for climate change and carbon reduction is put in place. This will cost £100,000
  • Extra resources are set aside to enable a further six graduates to be appointed, over and above the existing commitment in the council’s graduate programme at a cost of £200,000
  • Extra resources to expand upon the current well-being support programmes for staff. This will cost £50,000
  • Extra resources for public health and protection services at a cost of £200,000
  • Flood prevention support at a cost of £50,000
  • Extra resources for the team that manages overgrowth at a cost of £75,000

The remaining budget gap of £711,000, when the £4.6 million worth of cuts, the council tax increase and these proposals are taken into account, would be met by funds from the council’s transitional funding reserve.

The council’s general capital funding allocation has increased by £87,000 meaning it now stands at £13.7 million.

Councillors give their thoughts on the budget

Councillor Andrew Morgan, the Labour leader of the council, highlighted the level of public support for the proposals included in the budget and said the use of transitional funding is the right thing to do and that they will look at what other savings they can make in the next year.

He pointed out the significant sum of funding for community and children’s services and said that there had been “very substantial budget improvements” for education and social care.

He commended staff and said the budget is a “positive one for RCT considering the difficult year we have been through.”

Councillor Maureen Webber, deputy leader of the council, said: “All in all, most people support how the council intends to manage its finances.

She also thanked staff for their work over the past year.

Councillor Pauline Jarman, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, said: “This budget is public money raised from many sources. We are all custodians of the public purse.”

She then asked if there would be no pay rise for staff and about sanitary products for schools and if there was still a grant in place.

She also asked if it was the case that the Covid investment and grants had assisted the council to bridge the financial budget gap it had anticipated pre Covid.

The finance director Barrie Davies said they are reflecting the pay award situation from Westminster in the budget.

He said the sanitary product was halved and reallocated towards Covid but that it has been reinstated.

Cllr Morgan said staff have been working at foodbanks and food distribution centres handing sanitary products out, the youth service has been handing them out too and that schools and hubs have as well.

Mr Davies said Welsh Government has continued to fund local government for all costs and loss of income attributable to the pandemic.

Councillor Lyndon Walker on behalf of the RCT Independent Group said they support the budget and council tax rise.

Councillor Joel James of the Conservative group asked if a council tax freeze had been considered and Mr Davies said model of 2.85% had been reduced to 2.65% there was a range of scenarios presented during consultation so it was out there.

Cllr James said he there was “disappointment” with another council tax rise especially with the good settlement from Welsh Government and said his group would be abstaining.

Cllr Morgan said: “Nobody wants to see it rise but it is part of an overall package.”

He said they would have to double the rise next year if Welsh Government gave the money need to not raise council tax this year.

Councillor Shelley Rees-Owen, of Plaid Cymru, asked when the Section 19 reports on the impact of Storm Dennis would be ready.

Cllr Morgan said it would be a couple of months but they are putting in a base budget of £500,000 towards extra drainage crews.

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