COUNCIL chiefs in Carmarthenshire have welcomed a Welsh Government budget bonus but warned that half of the money will be swallowed up by teachers’ pay and pension rises.

Executive board members have approved a draft budget for 2020-21 which would require savings of £5.2 million – less than originally feared – and a hike in council tax of 4.89% to balance the books.

The lion’s share of council funding comes from central Government, and this is set to rise by £11.5 million in Carmarthenshire to £274 million on April 1.

“The provisional (Welsh Government) settlement was more generous than orginally forecast and what we have seen in recent years,” said Cllr David Jenkins, executive board member for resources at a meeting on January 6.

“However, with the scale of inescapable pressures being so vast, we will continue to see a squeeze on our finances and continue with our efficiency savings.”

But the Plaid-Independent draft budget was described as “very disappointing” by Labour opposition leader Rob James.

The impact on jobs won’t be known, said the council, until the final budget is set on March 3.

The budget report said £5.8 million of the £11.5 million budget increase would be spent on teachers’ pay rises and an increase in the amount the authority has to contribute to their pensions, plus extra money towards NHS-funded nursing.

Cllr Glynog Davies, executive board member for education and children, said: “The (teaching) staff do deserve it, and I am sure they will appreciate it.”

Other cost pressures include a bill of some £2.5 million to meet the new national living wage of £8.72 per hour, which comes into force on April 1, a £820,000 hike in payments to waste management company Cwm Environmental, and £400,000 to implement changes for pupils with additional learning needs.

Cllr Jenkins said savings of £5.2 million would be needed to continue delivering services as they are now – and he described the proposed 4.89% council tax rise as “reasonable”.

The authority is forecast to overspend this financial year by £3.5 million. Around £3 million of this relates to school budgets, and action is being taken to drive this figure down or allow schools to repay their deficits over a period of up to five years.

Cllr Davies said there were “difficulties in many of our schools”, and added: “We have to change, we have to accept new methods.”

The authority is consulting the public this month on its draft budget for 2020-21 and the following two years before it is set at a meeting of full council on March 3.

The executive board meeting heard that the council had made £90 million of savings over the past decade.

Council leader Emlyn Dole said: “We do welcome the improvements (in Welsh Government contributions) but of course we want more to get us back to where we were before.”

Speaking after the meeting, Labour councillor Rob James, said: “Despite a  significant increase in the local Government settlement for Carmarthenshire, this initial budget proposal is very disappointing.”

He claimed the administration was “expecting residents once more to pay more for less”.

Cllr James said his party would be keeping a close eye on any potential school closures, and cuts to library and social care budgets.

“People are really suffering after years of council cutbacks and it’s now time to use the best local Government settlement in many years to invest in our local communities, not strip them back,” he said.

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