Councillor Andrew Morgan OBE, Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council
As we approach the time of year where Councils across Wales legally have to present a balanced Budget, it is worth updating residents on some of the measures we are considering for 2023/24.
This will be, of course, the first Budget of this new Council term following May’s elections, and the challenges we are facing are quite exceptional. Despite some much-welcomed additional funding being passported by the Welsh Government for education and social care, we remain in an incredibly difficult position.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the after-effects of COVID-19, the ongoing cost of living crisis, rocketing energy prices and sky-high inflation, and an increased demand for our major services have all combined to create a perfect storm for local authority finances.
The Council is facing a budget gap of £38.3m – a figure that must legally be closed and one that is significantly higher than the approximately £24m we faced in the “darkest days” of austerity. There is also further uncertainty around the increases of energy costs – currently projected at 355% across our buildings and services - and what support is to be provided by the U.K. Government to help mitigate this.
We are absolutely aware of the effects of the cost of living crisis on families and households, businesses and communities, and we are doing all we can to avoid transferring the burden to local taxpayers where possible.
Based on current consultations from Councils across Wales, we are estimating that RCT will be implementing the second lowest increase on Council Tax at 3.5%, and this builds on the work we carried out over the last term where RCT had the lowest average rise in Council Tax of any Welsh Local Authority. In addition, we are proposing to increase fees and charges at a rate considerably below inflation in order to protect service users.
The first phase of our Budget Consultation process has recently concluded and it was encouraging to see respondents were in favour of our approach for the next financial year. Furthermore, our sound financial management over the last Council term and beyond has enabled us to be in a position to face these difficulties and largely look at the way in which we operate as a corporate body to find the necessary savings.
This careful management of our finances has enabled us to avoid some of the significant service delivery changes proposed by some other Councils, whilst our proposals also enable us to deliver a balanced budget for 2023/24 without compulsory redundancies.
Once again, there is a focus on protecting our major services, such as Education. Our schools budget has already increased by 28% over the last 10 years, and as part of the budget proposals for 2023/24, the Council is intending to fund all pressures on schools that relate to pay, inflation energy costs, pupil number changes and Additional Learning Needs through a £13.7m uplift.
I would end by urging all residents to give your views and help us to shape our future by engaging in the second phase of our budget consultation, which can be found on the Let’s Talk RCT webpage, and runs until Monday, 6th February.
Posted on 03/02/2023