CARMARTHENSHIRE Labour have tabled an alternative budget that will see Plaid Cymru’s council tax increase slashed, with additional funds going towards school buildings, flood defences and disabled toilets in town centres.
Councillors will debate Carmarthenshire Council’s budget this Wednesday on how best to utilise its £390 million funds to support residents and businesses in Carmarthenshire.
During the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented level of Government support has been provided to the local authority, with the Welsh Government covering 96% of all covid-related costs.
The Plaid Cymru-led Council initially proposed a council tax increase of just under 5%, which when added to the police and community precept increases, would have seen an average household in some areas of Carmarthenshire paying an additional £100 a year.
Carmarthenshire Labour have been campaigning against the tax rise arguing that households should be protected during the crisis.
As part of their alternative budget, Welsh Labour seek to reduce the tax increase to under 3% – bringing it below pre-Covid inflation levels – whilst removing proposed cuts in social care, cuts to coroners and road surfacing from this years budget.
To finance the proposals, Welsh Labour suggest cutting staff travelling costs, limiting the use of outside consultants and legal advice, whilst utilising an element of contingent funds.
Welsh Labour Councillors will also propose a number of capital projects totalling £4 million – additional capital for 21st century schools, flooding defences which will seek to begin addressing the extensive flooding in the county, funding of a mass tree planting scheme and additional electric charging points to tackle the climate emergency and creating ‘changing places’ facilities in Ammanford, Carmarthen and Llanelli.
It is pointed out by Welsh Labour that the Council’s Modernisation Education Programme (MEP) is currently underfunded by £17m with no suggestion on how all of the new schools being proposed can be built in the time frame.
Under Welsh Labour’s alternative budget, there will be a study looking at introducing ‘starter farms’ for young farmers in Carmarthenshire. Welsh Labour Councillors argue there are barriers to young farmers accessing sufficient land to start their own businesses and council tenanted farms are often held for decades by tenanted farmers.
Announcing their plans, Opposition Finance Spokesperson Cllr John Prosser stated “Our alternative budget tackles many of the issues relating to the immediate crisis and provides a road map for moving Carmarthenshire forward.
“Whilst we are currently in lockdown and tackling the pandemic, we should not be hammering hard pressed families with an inflation-busting tax rise. We also do not believe that it’s appropriate to cut social care again and introduce coroner cuts during a pandemic and have proposed they be saved from Plaid Cymru’s axe this year.
“After the recent flooding in Carmarthenshire, we need action now to protect our communities and shield them from disaster. Our capital budget would get Carmarthenshire moving forward after the pandemic, with more money for schools, flood defences, environment, farmers and those living with disabilities.
Supporting the alternative budget, Opposition Leader Cllr Rob James said “The last year has been a horrendous time for communities and families in Carmarthenshire and our alternative budget puts residents front and centre.
“We are pleased that our campaign to reduce Plaid’s inflation-busting tax rise has already resulted in two u-turns, yet we believe Councillors need to go much further to support hard pressed families. It is illogical to be supporting families on furlough or facing financial difficulty during the crisis with food banks and other measures, whilst at the same time they drive families into difficult with these tax rises.
“Whilst Plaid Cymru have used this pandemic to try and permanently close smaller schools, causing anguish for families, they offer no suggestion on how they can plug their £17m funding hole in their school building programme. Our alternative budget starts to address this issue, yet we need a wider discussion on Plaid Cymru’s school closure program.
“Finally, I am pleased we have been able to propose a capital programme that supports our environment, provides additional defence against flooding, support for young farmers and disabled facilities in three of our towns.”