‘Worse than Thatcher’ – Caerphilly councillors criticise level of funding from Welsh Government
News | | Published: 16:00, Wednesday December 5th, 2018.
Last updated: 16:22, Wednesday December 5th, 2018
The leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council has said the Thatcher years are nothing compared to the funding cuts faced by the local authority currently.
Leading councillors in Caerphilly’s Cabinet have approved a draft budget that will see around £15.6 million cut from services next year and a 6.95% council tax hike for residents.
Plans include cutting spending on schools, libraries, highways maintenance, public toilets and community safety wardens.
Charges for public car parks, residential parking permits and bus station departures could also be introduced.
The proposals assume the council will receive no further funding from the Welsh Government when the final local government settlement is released on December 19.
The Welsh Government has said it is putting more funding into councils so no local authority faces a cut of more than 0.5%.
Speaking at a meeting of Cabinet on Wednesday, November 14, deputy leader Barbara Jones said: “We can no longer put all the blame on the Tory government in London.
“That hurts me to say as a life-long socialist, but the Welsh Government have not given us fair play.
“We’re entering uncharted waters.”
Nicole Scammell, head of corporate finance, said the savings target is the highest recorded by the council since it became a unitary authority in 1996.
The proposals have been presented as permanent or temporary cuts, with Ms Scammell advising cabinet to retain as many permanent cuts as possible – even if extra money is afforded to them by the Welsh Government.
The leadership was also told not to use reserves, typically used for one-off capital expenditure, to balance the budget and fund “undeliverable services” – something done by the cash-strapped Northamptonshire council.
“It would be foolish. This happened at Northamptonshire, but we are nowhere near that,” added Ms Scammell.
Council leader Dave Poole described the proposals as “depressing” and hoped for extra funding to become available from Welsh Government.
“I’ve got 40-plus years in local government and the Thatcher years are nothing compared to what we’re going through now,” added Cllr Poole.
“I fear for the future of local government.”
Other cabinet members expressed “grave concerns” and claimed to have had “sleepless nights” over the future of particular public services.
Interim chief executive Christina Harrhy looked to the budgets to come, with the authority expected to cut a further £60 million over the next five years.
“We’ve already cut £89m since 2008 and protected frontline services. This can no longer be the case as two thirds of the proposed cuts affect frontline services,” she said.
Leaders of opposition groups also expressed dismay at the proposed budget and urged the Welsh Government to grant further funding to the authority.
Plaid Cymru’s Colin Mann said: “Welsh local government is being victimised by Labour Welsh Government.
“Wales has received a worse financial settlement than the Conservative government gave to local authorities in England in relation to funding for social care and that is not acceptable.”
Cllr Mann urged the Labour cabinet to look again at their proposals, while also suggesting that using reserves would be a good move to retain some public services.
Councillor Kevin Etheridge, leader of Independents, described the £15.6 million cuts as “unacceptable”, adding that the taxpayer was still paying for the ongoing pay dispute regarding the council’s former chief executive, Anthony O’Sullivan, and senior officers Nigel Barnett and Daniel Perkins.
The proposals have gone out to consultation before final suggestions are put to cabinet on February 21 next year.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have worked hard to offer local government the best settlement possible in this ninth year of austerity and have made further allocations to mitigate most of the reduction councils had been expecting. Last month we announced an extra £141.5m for local government, including £1.2m to raise the funding floor so no local authority faces a reduction of more than 0.5%.”
• Reporting provided by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.