Posted: Wed 14th Feb 2024

Councillors in Flintshire asked to back 9.1% rise in council tax

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Feb 14th, 2024

Senior councillors in Flintshire will be asked to approve a council tax rise of 9.1% for the 2024/25 financial year.

Flintshire County Council’s cabinet committee will meet later this month to discuss the proposals, which will then be presented to the full council later on the same day for a final decision.

In December, the Welsh Government announced its provisional budget settlement, which will see core revenue funding for local government increase by 3.1%. However, Flintshire will receive only 2.2%, the third lowest in Wales.

Flintshire’s budget predicament is stark. The council was facing a budget black hole of nearly £13 million, a deficit exacerbated by historical underfunding.

However additional cost pressures notably in homelessness demand and out-of-county placements have seen the gap revised to £14.5m.

The council has said it is “continuing to experience an increase in the numbers and complexity of children that require support from the Out of County Placement budget.”

Since 2008, Flintshire County Council has been forced to cut spending by £110 million, highlighting a prolonged period of financial austerity for the council.

Per capita, Flintshire ranks 20th out of 22 councils in Wales in terms of funding received to deliver services, receiving £159 less per person than the Welsh average.

This discrepancy has significant implications; if Flintshire were funded at the national average, it would be approximately £24 million better off, dramatically altering the council’s financial landscape.

Speaking to Deeside.com today, Gary Ferguson, Corporate Finance Manager at Flintshire County Council said “The Welsh Government grant accounts for about 70% of our funding. Our operating costs have gone up by 10% to £352m, and with the 2.2% rise in funding, there is a massive discrepancy. ”

On Welsh Government grants, council Chief Executive Neal Cockerton the formula used “has been tweaked but not significantly.”

“There’s a heavy weighting on deprivation, I think that’s where we do lose out, and Flintshire is a significant economic power, so we get penalised for that which is slightly unfair.”

“The formula has a number of very complex components to it and when you crunch the numbers, we always seem to be 20th out of 22, consistently.”

The budget gap is not merely a product of underfunding but is also driven by several critical factors.

There is an increasing demand for services such as homelessness support and social care, areas that have seen significant pressure in recent times.

Additionally, new responsibilities have been allocated to the council by the Welsh Government without the corresponding funding to fulfill these duties.

External costs are another contributing factor, with expenses from partnerships such as North Wales Fire and Rescue, North Wales Coroners Service, and social care service providers on the rise.

Compounding the current funding challenges are workforce pay increases, which, despite being negotiated and agreed nationally, come without additional funding for councils to implement them.

The soaring cost of energy, food, fuel, and other essential services further exacerbates the budgetary pressures facing Flintshire.

Despite the financial constraints, Mr Cockerton highlighted ongoing developments such as the modernisation of the school estate and the addition of new care facilities in Flint, demonstrating a commitment to maintaining progress in key areas.

He acknowledged the difficult decisions and transformations required to navigate the current financial landscape, with a focus on the importance of maintaining essential services and supporting community needs.

The council’s budget report, published today, states that “due to the scale of the financial challenge facing the Council for 2024/25 and the disappointing provisional settlement, all portfolios were tasked with finding further cost reductions of up to 7.5%.”

The report, which will go before the council cabinet committee on February 20, states: “given the unprecedented scale of the financial challenge the Council has faced this year there has been a need for all portfolios to make cost reductions, and a reduction will also need to be applied to the delegated budgets of our schools.”

“A 3% reduction on delegated school budgets (at 2023/24 level) will be required and this provides a contribution of £3.273m towards the budget requirement.”

Cllr Dave Hughes, Deputy Leader of Flintshire County Council said, recent storms and flood clear up work has added additional costs.

He said that in a bid to find more saving overall, “the steam roller has run over the orange there is no more juice in it.”

Based on the final additional budget requirement of £14.446m, the council has said an overall annual increase of “8% is required on Council Tax for Council Services and 1.1% for additional contributions to North Wales Fire and Rescue Service and the Regional Coroners Service.”

“This equates to an overall uplift of 9.1% and provides overall additional net yield of £9.072m in 2024/25. This amounts to an annual increase of £138.44 per annum and brings the Council Tax on a Band D equivalent property to £1,659.77 – £2.66 per week equivalent.”

Cllr Paul Johnson, Cabinet Member for Finance said unlike the Police precept the Fire Service Levy, the amount the Council contributes to North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, “should be separated from the council tax, at the moment its bundled into the overall council tax figure.”

Mr Cockerton said: “The Council has services in place to support and assist residents facing cost-of-living issues, offering guidance and exploring available options.”

“Resources like our dedicated cost-of-living section on the website and support for accessing welfare benefits have proven effective.”

The level of annual increase in Council Tax will voted on during a full council meeting on February 20.

 

 

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