Schools & Social Services In North Wales Want 8-10% Tax Rise

Schools and social services in North Wales will come under threat of cuts as councils face the prospect of 8-10% tax rises to balance the books, AMs were told yesterday.

The Welsh Local Government Association protested that a below inflation 2.2% average increase in Assembly support would place severe pressure on services.

Local government chiefs gave evidence to the cross-party Assembly finance committee over the impact of the draft budget.

The local government grant settlement from the Assembly Government is due to be officially unveiled today.

But according to the WLGA calculations worst-hit authorities, Powys, Conwy and Ynys Môn, could fall below a 2% grant increase for the first time in 10 years.

Derek Vaughan, Labour leader of the WLGA, told AMs that the proposed support to councils was ‘pitiful’.

He said: “The public just won’t wear large increases in council tax any more.

“In the past we have had a capping regime, we have had no indication so far that isn’t going to be the case this year and are telling us they will need to increase council tax by 8-10%.”

Finance minister Andrew Davies insisted that extra specific grants to authorities would raise the settlement to 3.2%.

But council chiefs said those grants for services such as free bus passes, waste management and the new foundation phase in schools, would not affect the day to day running costs of education or social services where inflation was running at 2.8%.

Mr Vaughan argued that there was slack in Assembly Government reserves, rising to £700m in three years, to relieve the cash pressures in county halls.

Steve Thomas, the WLGA chief executive, accused ministers of putting up a smokescreen over funding, claiming the Assembly cabinet had originally considered a 1.7% rise before it was ‘argued up to 2.2%’. He said: “Local government services have been in the firing line from the start. This budget will diminish local services.”

Mid and west Wales Labour AM Alun Davies said the authorities painted a ‘very different picture’ to that of the minister. “Are you clear that this is not sabre rattling and that there are not further efficiency savings that could be made?” he said.

A project in North Wales for councils to share revenue and benefits services anticipated £9m in savings but half of that would come from reductions in staff, AMs were told.

Mr Thomas said: “Efficiencies aren’t the silver bullet. You won’t end up with a bonfire of inefficiencies you will end up with a bonfire of frontline services.”

Councils, which had identified £200m of extra financial pressures were being asked to cope with just over £80m more.

Plaid deputy first minister Ieuan Wyn Jones said a decision had not been taken on capping council tax rises.

He said that councils were getting substantial extra money on top of their settlements to deal with waste and early years education.

He said: “We all accept that the settlement for next year is tight.”