COUNCIL tax will increase by 3.5 per cent in Cardiff as the city council sets out its plans to invest millions in public services.
The tax rise is less than the four per cent initially expected, due to the Welsh Government giving Cardiff council a higher than anticipated settlement.
Millions will be invested in schools, building new council houses, and supporting the local economy to recover from the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the budget for the next financial year was passed on Thursday, March 4, opposition councillors called for a smaller increase in council tax and fees charged by the council.
Councillor Chris Weaver, the cabinet member for finance, said:
“Despite receiving a better settlement than anticipated, we still have to close a budget gap of more than £15 million this year.
“Our council tax proposal is slightly below the average increase in Wales, and much lower than the five per cent increase many councils in England are having to bring forward. While it is always a difficult decision to take, I’m pleased this is a lower increase than we thought last autumn.
“At 85p a week on a Band D property, I believe it’s a fair ask to underpin our core services and our ambitious programme and is right for the city’s long term future.”
Cllr Weaver set out the areas the council will invest in, including the indoor arena at Cardiff Bay, building new schools, and building thousands of council homes to tackle the city’s housing crisis.
“There is a huge investment in regeneration and economic development, including major projects like the arena and Atlantic Wharf, but also money specifically for neighbourhood regeneration and district shopping centres. This is a budget for jobs and renewal.
“This budget also underpins our substantial council house building programme, the largest for decades in this city. This is a budget that invests in children and young people. We’re providing funds for our £251 million major school building programme. There’s also additional funding for maintaining our existing schools, providing £54.7 million for those.
“We’re also putting extra money into parks, playgrounds, alleygating, youth hubs and transport across the city. This is very much a budget for the future.
“There’s also significant investment in our One Planet and environmental policies, over £85 million funding in total. We have set hugely ambitious, vital targets to decarbonise over the coming decade ahead, to play our part in tackling the climate crisis.
“This is a Labour budget that invests in Cardiff. It’s a budget for jobs, for housing, for children and young people, and for our environment. We know the city faces a challenging time ahead, but we can look forward to a brighter future if we invest now to make it happen.”
The budget has a shortfall of £15,594,000, meaning the gap between how much income the council gets and what it wants to spend money on. The council tax increase will cover a third of this gap, while efficiency savings will cover two thirds.
Conservative councillors called for a 0.8 per cent increase in council tax, just below the rate of inflation. They argued the council should protect people hit financially by the pandemic, instead of adding to household bills.
The Tories said keeping some council staff working from home part of the time in the future would mean less office space needed, which could either be sold or rented out to start-businesses, bringing income to the council and helping the economic recovery.
Cllr Gavin Hill-John said:
“We should not underestimate the challenges faced by the hardworking residents of Cardiff every single day. That’s why we have looked at reducing the burden on the taxpayer in Cardiff.
“The council tax should be roughly in line with inflation, or under that if we can at 0.8 per cent. A figure that is fair and appropriate for the residents of Cardiff.
“We have a great opportunity to rationalise our estate. Our working practices have changed permanently. Yes, there’s going to be some elements of a return to normal, but the opportunities are endless for us to drive change.
“Let’s lead the way by making some of the new ways of working permanently. We also have a huge opportunity to utilise the remaining estate. Even before the pandemic, we had space that was underutilised. We could use this to help businesses and the economic recovery.
“With these new ways of working, we can reduce our occupancy, but create an opportunity for others. Across South Wales, there are business incubators that support start-ups and growing and ambitious businesses.
“This is a market we should be heavily involved in. We have space, we have the expertise within the council, we could make this work. There’s no reason why we can’t help aspiring businesses with great facilities at a great price.”
Liberal Democrat councillors called for a three per cent increase in council tax, making up the shortfall with the use of some of the contingency fund. They also called for a freeze on increasing fees related to bereavement services.
The council is putting up the fees it charges for some services, to balance its books. Most are either frozen or in line with inflation. But one area drew criticism — massive hikes in the fees charged for cremations, burials and graves — particularly given the pandemic.
Buying a grave plot will increase by £70, a 7.8 per cent increase on the current fee of £900. Burying cremated remains will increase by £60, a 16. 2 per cent increase on the current fee of £370. Cremation and burial fees will both also increase by more than five per cent.
Cllr Rodney Berman said:
“At a time when many families have been badly hit financially by the pandemic, this isn’t a time to be squirrelling money away into contingency funds. It’s a time when we should be helping some of those who need the most assistance.
“We should reduce the burden on those who have sadly faced a family loss, something that should be on all our minds with so many excess deaths in the last year due to Covid.
“The administration’s insistence in pressing ahead with large increases in bereavement and registration fees at this time is deeply insensitive. You could possibly say nothing short of heartless.”