Sunday, January 03, 2010

What's a 'reasonable' Council Tax increase.

At their meeting tomorrow, the Executive Management Board of Powys County Council are considering recommending a Council Tax increase of 4.25%. In my opinion, this is unreasonable and unaffordable, and I've suggested to the Conservative Group on the Council that they should vote against such an increase. This unreasonable and unaffordable increase is being proposed by councillors who make up the Powys Lib Dem Alliance, which now agrees a position beforehand, and then 'whips' it through the full Council.

I accept that the below-inflation increase in financial support from the Assembly Government makes it very challenging for the County Council to keep the Council Tax increase to the level of inflation, which is what I would consider 'reasonable'. Every private sector organisation across Britain has had to find efficiencies and savings since the financial crisis enveloped us. Had there not been a General Election on the immediate horizon, the Westminster Government would have had to do the same. In any event, there will be a budget next May/June irrespective of the result, which will make spending reductions.

Tomorrow, the Powys Lib Dem Alliance should reconsider its proposal to pile all the pain on Powys Council Tax payers, and resolve to re-work the Council's budget, searching for cost reductions which result in a Council Tax increase no more than the level of inflation. A 4.25% is too much. The people of Powys cannot afford it.


Anonymous said...

Lets face facts, it's WAG and it's grant it gives to the 22 LAs in Wales that's the issue.

How much money has the Parish Council on the Bay wasted?

Money is spent like water on the WAG buildings dotted across Wales, Rhydycar in Merthyr for example. Yet you see charities who have to run from buildings that's falling down, have damp in them, rooms not usable because the ceiling has fallen in.

Take a good look at Rhydycar, they got a bloody metal detector and X-ray screening important do these people think they are?

Jeff Jones said...

Put it into context Glyn. For the second year running Bridgend which had a much better settlement than Powys is going for 4.8%. The problem with local auhtorities is that their room for manoeuvre is too tight because the bulk of their money comes from the centre. To make matters worse they tend to see budgets as something that happens after you receive the settlement. In the past it didn't matter that you didn't take a long hard look at the services you provided. As we enter the Age of Austerity(If you think that this year is bad just wait for the budgets from 2011 on wards) councils need to take a more strategic approach. You just can't make the cuts required in a few months from September to January. You also can't make the cuts in my opinion without engaging with your electorate with regard to where the axe will fall. For years Powys has fudged the tough decisions regarding small schools. Understandable given the public reaction and the affection that such schools generate in the community. But if you are not prepared to make the savings by closing small schools then something else has to go I'm afraid. As an 18th century French politician famously put it 'To govern is to chose'. Life for Councils and Councillors in Wales from 2011 is going to get very tough indeed. Their size and their lack of reserves makes it inevitable that the cuts are going to hurt.At least hopefully when you are the MP for Montgomery the Council will have someone who does understand what it is like to take difficult decisions and you will not take the easy route of attacking those who through no fault of their own often find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

G ap M said...

The WAG Local Government Settlement increases received by individual authorities across Wales average 2%. Powys received just 1%. We see Newport at 3.1%, Cardiff at 3% Wrexham 3.1% and Bridgend 2.6% - an indication of where politics in Wales currently lies - the Labour heartland. Powys and Anglesey benefitted from a further 'floor funding' arrangement of 1% - but wasn't this conditional on this additional support being used to protect services rather than deliver lower council tax rises? There is an expectation from WAG that authorities like Powys are not sufficiently brave to set reasonable Council tax rises that help deliver services that people need. We can't now criticise Powys for taking some leadership. And what's all this criticism about Whips? Isn't this part of politics which helps provide direction? - something that PCC has just been unable to provide at any time in the past? As long as the spending priorities and service delivery programmes have been widely debated and publicised, I don't think Powys can be criticised. Glyn - you're falling into the trap of criticising Powys whatever route it takes. Our efforts should be directed at the Welsh Assembly and supporting Powys to become a modern authority.

JB said...


I had this letter published in the local press recently. To me it encapsulates the public sector attitude to the economies that are vital to this Nation's recovery. The axe must fall primarily onto the bloated burocracy that govers us at both Assembly and County level. Front line services CAN be maintained if unnecessary functions and overmanning is eliminated. Sadly the current batch of portfolio holders don't seem up to this task and are therefore reduced to hand wringing and passing on the costs, virtually unopposed, whilst blaming others. It's high tiome an effective opposition was formed to counter this nonsense and reveal the truth.

"Sadly, in the last week we have heard of two instances of funding shortfalls in Powys, at Llanfyllin High School and Ysgol Cedewain, Newtown. At the former, redundancies cannot be ruled out and at the latter staff cannot be replaced which will lead to a contraction of places available for disadvantaged children. Whilst any job losses in either public or private sector are regrettable, I am concerned that currently the axe appears to be falling in the wrong place.

It has been obvious for many months that there was going to be severe funding shortages and that the public sector could not be cushioned from the pain from the economic downturn - albeit somewhat later than their private sector counterparts. It was entirely predictable that the pernicious Welsh Assembly would again unfairly penalise Powys in a bid to curry support in its southern heartland. It is also wrong, as I have heard on two occasions recently, to blame the small increase in Council Tax last year. Even if neither had happened increasing deficits were inevitable for the foreseeable future.

Given this, is it unreasonable to expect that a root and branch review of all public sector functions had been undertaken? The problem, over-manning, is easy to diagnose, at the top end it results in the Welsh Assembly demanding a circus animal policy from all counties (how many of those have we got in Powys), and closer to home, Powys County Council officers are seemingly able to conjure up enough spare hours from existing resources to monitor nine extra car parks. When the WDA, ELWa and Tourism were taken under direct control of the Assembly we were promised £80m of savings, where are they?

In a small way some progress has been made at the County Council, eleven posts are to go in the Economic Regeneration and Development Section, however even here, many of those concerned, we are told, will be re-deployed and the whole process may take months and achieve little. There is still a culture of centralised control; responsibility and accountability should be devolved downwards, for example, large savings could accrue from giving head-teachers control over their own finances by cutting out the burocracy above.

Let us hope that the new Chief Executive can inject fresh thinking , we have a right to expect that the cuts must not be allowed to fall only on frontline services."

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - The principle of what you say is right. The 'gearing' effect of a poor settlement creates great pressures on some council budgets - particularly those which have lost out by changes to the distribution formula.

Jeff - Agree with a lot of what you say - but I've always looked at it more from the perspective of the taxpayer than 'government'. I was the same when I was leader of a council myself. There's going to have to be new ways of doing things, and our councils might as well start now.

G ap M - Where we differ is what constitutes 'criticism' or an 'attack on local governmnet'. As regular visitors will know, I have long been in favour of a 'cabinet' system, giving greater direction and certainty to council decision taking - which involves 'whipping'. But this is not happening in an open and public way. The position in Powys (in my opinion at least) is ridiculous. Two groups are supposedly operating as a ruling group, while pretending they are not. Seems to me that the only possible motive for this is that the Liberal Democrats want to delay anything formal until after the General Election, in order to avoid taking publc responsibility. OK, so that's their plan. But there's no reason why I should play along with it. I'm not prepared to use their preferred name of Powys Administration until they become an 'administation, and since there is a 'behind the curtains' ruling group, I reckon that the Conservatives and 'Shires' Independents and Labour are the 'opposition' - and its the job of 'opposition' to hold the ruling group to account.

Anonymous said...

How can the Administration be the ruling group when there are still Shires Independent members, Conservatives and Labour member of the Executive Board which takes the decisions? And from what I hear from one of your Conservative members they think the 4.25% is about right.
People in Powys are far better off than in a lot of Wales and now it is time that the cllr's has to be bold and set such an increase in Council Tax to make up for the low rises from previous years. The services must be maintained. You only have to go to a school governing body to hear the complaints about cllrs not setting a 'proper' level council tax and by not doing so losng money for our schools. I would like to see the Conservatives budget proposals. What level would they set and how would they balance it with demands on social services, schools budgets and schools meals service for example? Come on Glyn, instead of critising lets have some positive views on how the conservatives would tackle these issues and not just blame everyone else in order to try and win votes.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Good question. In my opinion, the discussion at the Executive Board is a sham, because the Powys Lib Dem Alliance meets in private before the Board meeting to agree a line which it whips through.

This blog represents my opinion and not that of Conservative Councillors, though I hope that there is a fair measure of agreement between us.

You are right about the need for a genuine look at the Council's budget. I can think of a stack of savings that the Council could make, but I prefer to discuss these with the Conservative Group first. This blog represents my personal opinion, but I'm only prepared to push it so far. You seem to know a bit about the Council so let me ask whether you've checked how much has been spent on consultants over recent years, or how many planning applications per officer are approved compared with say 10 years ago. Just asking.

Anonymous said...

Council tax increases are far higher than the pay rises most of us receive as private sector employees. This has been the case for many years. I can only expect to get 2% max this year and received no increase last year as a result of the recession. Ive had to make cutbacks, and so should the Council and all government in general.

I asked the council the following question via Email last year;

If the council tax rises by a higher percentage that the average private sector employees pay every year, as it is doing, then at some point it will be higher than my pay. Can I have a projection of when this will happen so that I can leave the country?

Needless to say I received no response.