THE number of Swansea Council jobs at risk may be less than feared when next year’s budget is set, and more money will be invested in education – but nobody knows yet how much council tax will rise.
Swansea’s Labour administration will present updated proposals for 2020-21 next month, which will then be debated by full council when the budget is set in early March.
The assumption at present is that 38 posts are at risk, but chief finance officer Ben Smith told a council scrutiny meeting that he expected that figure to come down. He added: “Compared to previous years that’s a fraction of the number we normally have at risk.”
But he said the matter was nevertheless very important to anyone affected.
Mr Smith also said an extra £9.7 million proposed for education – almost entirely covering increased pension and pay rises for school staff – was “a quantum increase compared to previous years”.
Council leader Rob Stewart, who was also at the meeting, said: “The £9.7 million for education is not the entire picture – there are further investments that we have proposed with head teachers. “There should be a significant additional investment over what is proposed in the draft budget.” But he would not be drawn on exactly how much council tax would rise. “We have not yet come to a decision on council tax,” he said. “The planning assumption, as in previous years, is 5%.”
Cllr Paxton Hood-Williams put it to Cllr Stewart that the proportion of the budget covered by council tax in Swansea had increased significantly since Labour came to power in 2012.
The Labour leader said council tax rises would not be needed if more money consistently came to Wales from the Government in Westminster.
He called on Boris Johnson’s administration to deliver on its “magic money trees springing up left, right and centre”.
Cllr Jeff Jones asked if research could be undertaken on how council tax rises affect people in Swansea.
Cllr Stewart said equality impact assessments were carried out for most council policy changes, as well as public consultations.
Swansea Council is in line for an extra £17 million this year via the UK Government, which Mr Smith described as “the best settlement for a decade”.
But finance chiefs estimate that the council faces £35 million of budget pressures, such as pay rises and extra demand for services.
The resulting £18 million shortfall will be covered by departmental savings and a rise in council tax, with further details to emerge in the coming weeks.
Cllr Mary Jones said she disagreed with bereavement service costs going up every year. Cllr Stewart said these were “a very small” element of overall funeral costs.
The Labour leader also claimed Wales was under-funded by the mechanism – known as the Barnett formula – by which funding is allocated from Westminster.
Cllr Hood-Williams said: “Do you remember when Labour was in Government, and proposed changing the Barnett formula? You kept it exactly as it was – now you complain about it.”
Cllr Stewart said he expected the Prime Minister to change the formula and “give more money to Wales”.