Following publication of the 2021/22 provisional Local Government Settlement in December, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet will next week consider a Draft Budget Strategy for the forthcoming financial year which includes an increase of £2.2m for the schools budget and what is once again likely to be the lowest council tax rise in Wales.
A report to Members on Thursday, January 28, outlines a proposal on setting a balanced Budget for the next financial year – which will be consulted upon and recommended to Full Council in March. The ambition is for the Budget to be as fair as possible, and to limit any impact on much-valued services while targeting resources to key areas.
The provisional Local Government settlement, announced by the Welsh Government on December 22, indicates that Rhondda Cynon Taf will receive a 3.8% Budget increase for 2021/22, and acknowledges the critical role that local authorities have played in the fight against COVID-19.
The report provides feedback from the recent consultation process which saw over 1,000 responses submitted. The proposed strategy balances a remaining Budget gap for 2021/22 of £4.05m with the opportunity also taken to provide additional investment in key areas. The strategy includes:
- Schools Budget increase of £2.2m, recognising schools as a key priority and fully-funding their requirements for 2021/22.
- Protecting Council services meaning a no cuts Budget.
- Delivery of £4.6m in further efficiencies, on top of the £6m per year savings achieved across Council services in each of the last three years.
- A Council Tax increase of 2.65%, which is below what was initially consulted upon and is set to once again be the lowest rise in Wales for 2021/22.
- Continuation of the Non Domestic Rates (NDR) Local Relief Scheme, and increasing to £350 per qualifying business for 2021/22.
- Car parking to be made free, after 3pm on weekdays and after 10am on Saturdays (applying to Aberdare and Pontypridd).
- Climate Change and Carbon Reduction, a core budget of £100,000 would be put in place to increase the pace of work in this area.
- Freeze on charges, for Leisure for Life, car parks, sports fields, Lido Ponty/Rhondda Heritage Park, Bereavement Fees and school meals.
- Additional targeted resources:
- £200,000 to allow for the recruitment of six Graduate Officers over and above the existing commitment made under the Council’s successful Graduate Scheme.
- £200,000 for Public Health and Protection to increase resilience in the service and allow additional resources to be employed.
- £50,000 in Flood Prevention Support for an advisory resource to support residents and businesses.
- £50,000 for Well-being support programmes to be developed and extended across the workforce.
- £75,000 for an additional Overgrowth Team to be put in place to further enhance the work to keep our local environment clean and tidy.
- £500,000 for a new Drainage Team to bolster and increase the pace of works to repair and improve drainage systems.
The Council also currently holds £8.7m in General Fund Reserves, after some of this Fund (£1.5m) was used to support communities in response to Storm Dennis, with plans now in place to replenish the level over the next three years.
Councillor Andrew Morgan, Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said: “Cabinet will consider a report outlining the latest position on setting a legally balanced Budget for 2021/22. Officers have brought forward a draft Budget based on Welsh Government’s provisional settlement – which has indicated that Rhondda Cynon Taf will receive a 3.8% increase in funding next year.
“The settlement acknowledges the intense pressures on Local Government across Wales, and recognises the crucial role councils are playing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to protect its residents. In the last financial update Cabinet received during October 2020, Officers outlined that a provisional settlement of +3% would result in a Budget gap of £13.8m – so December’s settlement was certainly a fair outcome for Rhondda Cynon Taf.
“Every Local Authority in Wales is likely to increase Council Tax rates next year, and based on provisional information, RCT is proposing the lowest increase nationally for the second consecutive year at 2.65% – with some Local Authorities considering over 5%. The Council has also continued its service efficiencies which have delivered more than £6m savings in each of the last three years, with an additional £4.6m of savings now factored in.
“The draft strategy has several other positives, including an extra £2.2m for our Schools Budget – building upon the significant increase in resources we have invested in this area since 2011/12. The NDR Local Relief Scheme would also be continued with qualifying businesses receiving an increased sum, while parking would be free in Pontypridd and Aberdare after 3pm each weekday and after 10am on Saturdays.
“During Thursday’s meeting, Cabinet Members could choose to agree the draft timetable towards setting the 2021/22 Budget in March 2021, and for the Council to begin a second phase of consultation with local residents – based more specifically on the proposals outlined in the draft Budget strategy.”
An initial consultation process, held from October to December 2020, allowed residents to have their say before a draft Budget was compiled. The process collected views on investment priorities, Council Tax and efficiency savings, and was predominantly held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In total, 1,044 surveys were completed and 76% of respondents felt Council services should be protected through a 2.85% Council Tax increase, and this is now proposed to be reduced to a 2.65% increase. Also, 81% of respondents agreed the Council should provide resources to cover increasing pressures in schools, while the top three services people wanted to prioritise were Children’s Social Care (95%), Schools (92%) and Public Health (91%). A detailed consultation report will be considered by Cabinet alongside the Budget proposals.
Posted on Friday 22nd January 2021