Carmarthenshire County Council has amended its 2023-24 budget strategy in response to extensive public consultation. Proposed cuts to school funding and increased school meals and car parking charges have been reduced, and a lower than anticipated council tax increase of 6.8% will enable the Council to avoid cutting essential public services.
In preparing the most challenging budget for many years, Carmarthenshire County Council invited the public and other interested parties to express their opinion, suggestions and preference on a total of 17 budget proposals. Over 2,000 people responded to the online consultation, and 80 young people from the county’s secondary schools attended a face-to-face event at County Hall to discuss with Cabinet members and express their priorities.
Amongst the main changes to the Council’s budget proposals are:
- A proposed council tax rise of 6.8%, which is well below the current rate of inflation. Just 25% of the Council’s £450m Net Revenue Budget comes from the Council Tax. The remaining balance comes from the annual Welsh Government Revenue Support grant and the National Non-Domestic Rates.
- The proposed reduction of £2.7m in the Schools Delegated Budget has been cut to £2m, although in real cash terms, Carmarthenshire schools will get an extra £8m to cover inflation, energy and staffing costs.
- It was originally proposed to raise the price of school meals by 10% in line with inflation, but this has been halved to 5%.
- In recognition of this difficult time for town centre traders, the proposed 10% inflation-related increase in car parking charges has also been cut to 5%. Meanwhile, a review of free parking periods is being held. It’s worth noting that the Council has to pay Non-Domestic Rates on car parks, which currently amounts to well over £300,000 in Carmarthen Town alone.
- An additional £262,000 has been allocated for Highways and Town Centres, to help alleviate the previous reduction in funding due to austerity measures.
- Proposed cuts to the Youth Support Service and Children’s Services Grants have been dropped completely.
Carmarthenshire County Council, like all local authorities, is facing unprecedented financial pressures as the rising cost of inflation, food and energy prices along with increased global demands for goods and services, presents a significant shortfall in its 2023/24 budget.
The Council’s energy costs have nearly trebled and the level of nationally agreed pay awards for staff is far above what was budgeted for 12 months ago, due to the significant rise of inflation.
Following the Welsh Government funding settlement, announced on December 14, Carmarthenshire County Council identified a need to bridge a budget shortfall of over £20million in its 2023/24 budget.
Welsh Government recognise this has been one of the toughest budgets that they have ever set and therefore the money allocated to local authorities, which makes up around three-quarters of our funding, will fall well short of what the Council need to continue with services as they are currently. Council Tax raises around £112 million a year and contributes to around a quarter of the total net annual budget.
The Council has a legal responsibility to set a balanced budget every year, ensuring that income from sources such as Council Tax, revenue from paid-for services and grants is enough to cover its expenditure.
The Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr. Alun Lenny said: “All councils are facing unprecedented financial pressures, due to soaring fuel prices, ever-rising interest rates and rampant inflation, which has, in turn, led to higher pay settlements as working people try to make ends meet in a cost of living crisis.
“As a result of global factors, Carmarthenshire County Council is having to make savings of £9.4m this year. This comes on top of a decade of austerity, with year-on-year cuts in public spending resulting in the Council already being £100m worse off than we were 10 years ago.
“I would like to thank those residents who have engaged with us during this budget planning period. It has been incredibly difficult to set a balanced budget for 2023-24, but the public feedback indicates that residents appreciate this, and were willing to engage in the process.”
Five-Year Capital Programme
Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet has also recommended its Five-Year Capital Programme, which will see £265m of investment within the county over the next five years.
£73m of funding will be directed towards the Council’s continued commitment to improving school buildings, £27m for Regeneration projects to boost economic activity, £86m for City Deal backed projects which include a new leisure centre for Llanelli, and £59m to improve Carmarthenshire’s local economic infrastructure and the wider environment. This comprehensive and wide-ranging package is supported by funding from the Welsh Government, the UK Government, and the Council’s own resources.
Cllr. Alun Lenny continued: “In recent years we have delivered a huge programme of capital investments for the people of Carmarthenshire. Investments in our schools, in our transport links and infrastructure, and in our cultural and leisure facilities – across the board, we have delivered despite the unprecedented challenges we have faced from a pandemic and the rising cost of living.
“As we prioritise our capital investments for 2023/24, we are mindful of the ongoing difficulties faced by our residents. I am, therefore, delighted to be seeking approval from Cabinet colleagues for this comprehensive Capital Programme which will again boost the local economy and deliver new and improved facilities that can be enjoyed by residents across the County.”
Carmarthenshire County Council’s 2023-24 Revenue Budget and Five-Year Capital Programme 2023/24 to 2027/28 are due to be approved by the full Council at its next meeting on March 1.