Senior politicians in Flintshire have welcomed an “important” increase to their budget and pledged to keep any council tax rise below five per cent next year.
Residents have faced hikes of 6.7 and 8.75 per cent in the last two years leading to unrest in the community.
In October, Flintshire Council warned it was in danger of being unable to set a balanced budget for 2020/21 amid uncertainty over how much money it would receive from the Welsh Government.
However, the local authority now says it is in a positive position after ministers in Cardiff gave them an uplift of £10.4m in funding, which equates to a boost of 3.7 per cent on last year’s amount.
Councillors had been hoping to cap any council tax increase at below five per cent and Labour council leader Ian Roberts said the settlement would allow them to do so.
He said: “Flintshire County Council welcomes the provisional local government settlement for 2020/21 announced yesterday.
“Whilst Flintshire continues to face financial risks, and we must continue with our strong financial stewardship of the authority, this settlement is an important first step towards ending a decade of punitive budget settlements for local government.
“We have spoken out against council tax payers having to pay more local tax to substitute for annual reductions in government funding in the recent past.
“We have had no choice but to set council tax at a higher level than we had planned in each of the last two years.
“This worrying trend of big annual increases in council tax has to end.
“We plan to keep the council tax rise for Flintshire under five per cent this year.”
Group leaders from across the political divide in Flintshire wrote to the Welsh Government earlier this year to call for a better settlement.
Around £3.7m of the extra money is expected to be spent on national increases to teachers’ pay and pensions, leaving approximately £6.5m to balance the budget.
The amount which needs to be bridged stands at £15.6m and savings of £8.1m have already be found.
The authority said it was confident the new funding would allow it to set a legally balanced budget, with education set to be prioritised.
Cllr Roberts, who is also the council’s cabinet member for education, added: “We have been particularly concerned at the financial sustainability of our local schools.
“Whilst we have avoided making the cuts to delegated schools budgets that some other councils have been forced to make, we have been very aware that if schools were to have to share the costs of increases in teachers’ pay and employer pensions contributions then some might soon reach breaking point.
“We are relieved to be able to confirm that schools will be shielded from these cost pressures and will have small uplifts in their budgets for utilities and other costs.
“We now wish to plan ahead so that schools might see more growth in their budgets in future years.”
The authority will formally set its final budget and council tax levels at a meeting in February.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).