Cabinet will this week discuss the Revenue Budget Strategy for 2019/20, including setting the Council Tax for the year ahead – with the intention to set one of the lowest Council Tax rises in Wales, while still protecting frontline services from cuts despite continuing austerity.
The proposed approach includes no significant planned service cuts and extra funding for Education and social services – alongside a £170m Capital Programme to continue to deliver on key priorities over the next three years.
If agreed on February 14, Cabinet will set out its spending plans following an extensive public consultation in November and December 2018, during which 4,000 responses were received from residents – making this the largest budget consultation event of this type to date for the Council.
Following Thursday’s meeting, Cabinet will then propose to Full Council a Revenue Budget Strategy for 2019/20 which includes a Council Tax rise of 3.6%. Based on initial indications, this will be one of the lowest increases for 2019/20 applied across Wales and will avoid a double-digit increase that some Authorities are considering.
The Capital Programme, which will also be proposed by Cabinet, represents an ambitious programme of investment totalling over £170m over the next three years, up until 2021/22. This includes building on the significant investment of almost £365m through #RCTinvest since 2015/16.
Councillor Andrew Morgan, Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said: “Cabinet will seek to agree its Revenue Budget Strategy for 2019/20, before the proposals will then go forward for consideration by Full Council in March 2019. In addition, Cabinet will also deliberate on proposals for an ambitious £170m Capital Programme over the next three years, which will see the Council continue to deliver on our core priority areas and commitments.
“This will continue the momentum created through #RCTinvest, in bringing significant funding to priority services, and this is making a visible difference to communities right across the County Borough.
“Our proposals are for only a moderate increase in council tax and the protection of all frontline services, which is a situation many other Welsh Local Authorities are not able to deliver on in these times of public sector austerity. “We have been able to deliver this as a result of our proactive approach since the onset of austerity, through remodelling services – and investing in future-proofing and delivering significant efficiency savings including reducing senior management costs year-on-year. The Council is also currently considering further senior management savings, which would see costs reduced by more than £3.1m year-on-year since 2014.
“The capacity to deliver savings in this way is however shrinking, and without an end to austerity nationally it will inevitably mean that reductions in services will become the only option available in future years to deliver a legally-balanced budget.
“As ever, engagement with residents has been an important tool in this process. A wide ranging consultation process ran in November and December, where a total of 4,000 responses were received. This is significantly more than the 1,500 responses received last year, and represents the largest ever feedback we’ve had for a budget consultation. I would like to thank residents for taking the time to help us shape our budget for the forthcoming financial year.
“The 3.6% proposed increase in Council Tax is likely to represent one of the lowest rises in Wales – with initial indications estimating the average rise will be in excess of 6%. In 2018/19, RCT set the lowest Council Tax rise in Wales, and this followed consistently low increases, including the preceding two financial years where the lowest increases in the County’s history were delivered. This shows that we are committed to protecting residents and communities from the worst effects of austerity.
“As a Cabinet we recognise that residents face the same financial challenges as the Council does in this climate of austerity, and that is why we are determined to keep any rise in Council Tax as low as practicably possible. To support this approach we have sought to continue to drive the delivery of efficiencies to protect front-line services and we are proposing a further £6m of savings through this plan.
“Alongside this, Cabinet is proposing a zero increase in charges for town centre car parking, summer and winter sports playing fields and, importantly, school meals. We are also not increasing charges at key visitor attractions such as National Lido of Wales, the Welsh Mining Experience and our cinemas.
“Importantly, we will continue to protect education spending over and above other services, with a £5.2m cash-uplift proposed for next year, which will support the delivery of education and growth in teachers’ remuneration. In cash terms, our schools are receiving a 3.5% uplift, compared with only a 0.8% increase in grant funding that we have received from Government – and this clearly demonstrates the importance placed upon education and creating the best possible opportunities for our young people.
“On average, residents using the budget simulator and through surveys as part of the consultation exercise ‘set their own budget’ with a Council Tax rise of 4.54% for 2019/20, to help bridge a budget gap of £5.9m we faced this year. However, it’s recommended to keep the increase to 3.6%.
“This shows that participants understood why we are required to raise Council Tax, with many responses suggesting they would rather pay a little more in order to protect and enhance our vital services. These proposals show that we have listened to residents and have in fact proposed an increase that is below the average suggested.”
As part of the Capital Programme proposals, an additional £13.1m of funding has been identified for key priority areas over and above the normal core budgets. This includes funding across important service areas from Highways to Education, Residential Care, Parks and Play Areas.
Among the proposed investments are:
- Highways and Roads - £1.5m
- Highways Structures - £1.5m
- Parks Structures - £1m
- A4119 dualling scheme - £1.5m
- Empty properties grant - £1.5m
- School buildings - £1.5m
- Extra Care - £1m
- Parks - £900,000.
- Play Areas - £500,000.
- King George V athletics track - £500,000.
If agreed, Council will consider the Cabinet budget proposals on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
Posted on Wednesday 13th February 2019