COUNCIL tax in the Vale of Glamorgan will increase by 2.9 per cent from April after councillors voted to pass the annual budget.
The budget also includes extra spending on building new schools and tackling the climate crisis.
Opposition councillors criticised the council tax increase, as reserves have shot up, calling instead for a freeze this year amid a cost of living crisis.
But Labour said rising fuel costs and national insurance also affect the council’s budget, and the reserves and council tax hike were needed to protect the most vulnerable people in the Vale.
After a tense debate on Monday, March 7, councillors voted to approve the Vale’s annual budget, including the council tax increase.
The budget has savings targets of £500,000, and a better-than-expected increase in grants from the Welsh Government, totalling £186 million.
Council leader Neil Moore said the budget was “probably one of the worst” he had experienced in many years as a councillor, although welcomed the extra funding from the Welsh Government.
He said: “This has probably been one of the worst budget-setting processes that I’ve ever been through, because of the amount of money that was supposed to be coming from the Welsh Government and Westminster that didn’t come.
“We’ve been very lucky that we’ve had extra money coming through from the Welsh Government for things like social care. It doesn’t make up the loss to local government funding over the last 10 years, nowhere near. But our council tax band D is still below the Welsh average.”
Cllr George Carroll, leader of the Tory group, called for council tax to be frozen given the huge increase in the council’s reserves. The increase in reserves is almost double what the council tax hike would raise.
He said: “We have had years of inflation-busting council tax rises which have put considerable pressures and hardships on working people across the Vale of Glamorgan. During this time the council has actually managed to generate profits, and so we have seen our reserves increase.
“This year we’ve seen £4.2 million transferred into reserves, which will take the council’s cash sitting in the bank to £15.2 million and usable reserves into the hundreds of millions. Despite this, we’re once again seeing a proposed increase in council tax. It’s a significant increase at a time of extraordinary economic hardship.
“The increase will raise an extra £2.4 million – less than the amount transferred into the council’s reserves. Other councils across Wales are freezing council tax, such as the Labour-run Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend. Given the position of our reserves, it’s something I believe we should be doing too.”
Cllr Ian Johnson, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, said it was “ironic” for Tory councillors to call for a tax freeze at the same time the Tory government in Westminster is raising national insurance by 1.25 per cent to go towards reducing the coronavirus backlog in the NHS.
He said: “It’s frankly astonishing to have the Conservatives put themselves forward as being the party of low tax. In the next couple of weeks, people are going to be paying far more for their national insurance, people will be facing difficulties because of the removal of the triple lock on pensions, and people will be affected by all sorts of things.
“The Conservatives putting this forward is fairly ironic. This year our residents face a cost of living crisis with inflation in shopping bills, below-inflation increases in benefits and pensions, spending more and getting less, and that’s before mentioning the massive rise in energy bills.
“I can’t do much about these increases that affect us all. I have no vote on national insurance, which our Tory MP voted for, I can’t stop the inflation that Brexit has unleashed. But what I can do is something on the amount of council tax we pay here in the Vale. These are choices that we’re elected to make. I can’t support an increase in Vale council tax.”
Deputy council leader Cllr Lis Burnett said the council tax hike was needed to protect the most vulnerable people living in the Vale of Glamorgan, and added that rising costs like fuel and national insurance also add pressure onto the council’s budget.
“I’m getting a feeling of deja vu because every year for the past few years Cllr Carroll has talked about raiding reserves to freeze council tax. I do wonder where we would be in terms of general reserves if that had happened. We were very fortunate when we went into the pandemic that we were financially sound … because we had those reserves.
“It’s not looking to get better and we need to make sure that we’re able to step up, because at the end of the day it’s where the buck stops, in terms of delivering local services to our most vulnerable. We need to be for them and we will be if we pass this budget. Fuel costs and other costs like national insurance are hitting the council as well.”
Labour and some independent councillors voted to pass the budget and council tax increase, while Plaid and Tory councillors voted against it. The council tax hike will take effect from April.