Posted: Thu 13th Jun 2024

Welsh Government accused of kicking “long-overdue” council tax reforms into long grass

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

A Plaid Cymru politician accused the Welsh Government of kicking “long-overdue” council tax reforms into the long grass.

Peredur Owen Griffiths said pausing reforms until 2028 at the earliest typifies a tendency to prioritise the political survival of the first minister over the interests of the people of Wales.

The shadow local government secretary criticised the Welsh Government’s “unilateral” decision to abandon a joint commitment to make council tax fairer by 2026.

Plaid Cymru pulled out of the co-operation agreement two days after Vaughan Gething’s new administration postponed plans to redesign council tax.

During local government questions on June 12, Mr Owen Griffiths told the Senedd: “This is one of several reasons why we had no option but to withdraw from the agreement.”

‘Heavy heart’

Calling for reforms sooner rather than later, he said the regressive nature of council tax places a disproportionate burden on lower-income households.

Mr Owen Griffiths pointed out that Plaid Cymru has tabled an amendment to the local government finance bill to bring council tax reforms forward to April 2025.

Julie James accepted that council tax is not fit for purpose but she cautioned that councils are currently wrestling with lots of challenges.

Suggesting Labour will vote down the amendment, the local government secretary said: “I’m pretty sure that we actually physically can’t do it by that date, even if we wanted to.

“We took the view, I think, with a bit of a heavy heart, that it was just a step too far for local government given the set of things that they were currently dealing with.”

‘Parachuted’

Mr Owen Griffiths said Torsten Bell, Labour’s general election candidate for Swansea East, criticised the UK Government for allowing unfair council tax to rise faster than inflation.

He urged Ms James to remind her party colleagues, who have been “parachuted” into Welsh seats, that the Welsh Government is responsible for council tax in Wales.

He said: “I appreciate that, as someone with no prior connection to Wales, Mr Bell may not have the most in-depth knowledge of Welsh devolution nor of his party’s record here.”

Mr Owen Griffiths added that four of Labour’s six general election pledges for Wales are the responsibility of the Welsh Government rather than Westminster.

Ms James replied: “Well, I’m not going to indulge in that, Cefin; I’m really sorry you’ve gone down that road. But what I would say is we really do believe in local government in Wales.”

‘Black hole’

Mr Owen Griffiths raised the International Monetary Fund’s concerns that the next UK Government will have to contend with a £30bn black hole in the public purse.

Accusing Labour and the Conservatives of being in denial, he told the chamber: “This means a fresh round of austerity measures is coming, regardless of who wins on July 4.”

He asked whether Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent councils’ announcement they will be sharing a chief executive is a sign of things to come with stretched resources being pooled.

Ms James said: “Thank you, Cefin. The short answer is yes, I am supportive of it.”

She referred to her opposite number as ‘Cefin’ three times in total, confusing Mr Owen Griffiths with his Plaid Cymru colleague, Cefin Campbell.

‘Mortified’

Elin Jones, the Senedd’s speaker or Llywydd, intervened to point out the mix-up – with Mr Owen Griffiths joking that he has a much longer beard.

A slightly mortified minister said: “I’m really sorry. I’ll put my glasses on. Huge apologies.

“My problem is that I’ve arrived at that point in my life where I need two pairs of glasses, and I’m only carrying my reading glasses with me. I’m afraid you’re a bit of a blur in the distance.”

Responding to the speaker’s recommendation of varifocals, Ms James said she has tried but they unfortunately make her feel unwell.

“So, I end up doing this kind of thing which is not good,” she said. “Huge apologies. I’ve lost my thread completely now!”

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

 

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