The early months of the year always mark the start of a busy period for Local Authorities across Wales as our attention invariably turns to the setting of the annual budget for the forthcoming year.
Despite these tough economic times, we have continued to be hugely ambitious and I’m sure that residents across the County will have noticed the positive effects that our capital investments have had in their communities - whether through the upgrading of a play area, the improvement of road surfaces, or even through large-scale projects like the Taff Vale redevelopment in Pontypridd and the progression of the Mountain Ash Cross Valley Link. We are determined to see the commitments we made to our residents come to fruition and I am pleased that my fellow Cabinet Members have been able to agree to the proposals for a further £170m of capital investment to continue our work over the next three years.
This proposal must now go before Full Council in March and, should Members be in favour, will see key funding allocated, including £500,000 to deliver improvements to King George V athletics track and football field; a £900,000 investment in our parks and green spaces; £26.199m for further improvements in schools and education; and, a combined £25.996m for Highways and Strategic Projects.
Continued austerity necessitates that the budget cycle is a continuous process and not something that we can just pick up a couple of months in advance. In RCT, we realised that this was an approach that we needed to adopt early on once it became clear that the public sector cuts were going to dominate our finances for the foreseeable future and, through this prudent approach, we have been able to avoid having to make increasingly tough decisions in cutting key service provisions.
In addition to these capital proposals, Cabinet also agreed to support the revenue budget and this will also go before Full Council in March for Member’s approval. Key to our approach is continually looking at the way we operate as a corporate body to achieve efficiencies and I was hugely pleased to see that, as part of our budget proposals, we have been able to exceed our ambitious target of £6m to help bridge the budget gap for 2019/20. Whilst we will always continue to look internally for savings, we must be realistic in recognising that these kinds of efficiencies are becoming increasingly difficult to make unless considerable changes can be made on a UK level in providing fair funding for Local Government and ending public sector austerity.
Looking across Wales, we once again look set to implement the lowest Council Tax rise of any of the 22 Welsh Local Authorities for the second consecutive year and this is testament to the fact that we have always sought to avoid transferring the brunt of austerity on to our residents. Whilst this rise is actually below the average increase of 4.54% that residents indicated that they would be comfortable supporting during our budget consultation - which attracted over 4,000 responses - it does still allow us to invest an additional £5.2m into our schools in 2019/20, which is a rise of 3.5%, and also protect social care funding from inflationary pressures and rising cost demands.