FOLLOWING a favourable Local Government Settlement from Welsh Government, the RCT Cabinet on 27 January will consider a Draft Budget Strategy for the Council for 2022/23 – including an extra £11.2m for the schools’ budget, the lowest-ever Council Tax increase for the County Borough and increasing the pay for our staff and commissioned social care providers to a level above the Real Living Wage.

The provisional settlement provides a higher level of funding than the range modelled and reported by the Council in early autumn, reflecting the funding pressures across Local Government and recognising the critical role that local councils continue to play in responding to the pandemic and protecting communities.

Phase One of the Council’s Budget consultation took place from October 26 to December 7, 2021. More than 1,000 residents were engaged, including responses to a survey and a ‘quick poll’.

In total for the survey responses, 72% of respondents agreed the Council should fully cover increased pay and non-pay costs in our schools, 87% agreed the Council should continue to prioritise Social Services as a key investment area, 51% agreed that Fees and Charges should be raised by the rate of inflation, while 86% agreed with the Council’s approach to efficiency savings. A full report on the consultation and responses is included as an Appendix to the Cabinet report.

The Budget seeks to be as fair as possible and limit any impact on much-valued services while targeting resources to key areas. The more favourable settlement has allowed the Draft Budget Strategy to include:

Protection of Council services – with no service cuts once again, which has been the case since 2017.

Council Tax increase of 1% – the best position for many years, which is below the 2.65% increase consulted upon and is once again likely to be one of the lowest rises across Wales.

A minimum rate of pay above the Real Living Wage– increasing this level to £10 per hour from April 1, 2022, applying to the Council’s own staff plus commissioned social care staff.

Additional £11.2m for the schools’ budget – representing a 6.8% increase and ensuring our schools are fully-funded for next year.

Additional £15m for Social Services (including community services)this includes additional resources to address increasing demands, through further developing the workforce, supporting on-going remodelling and integration of services, and helping prevent children from becoming looked after.

Additional £500,000 to tackle Climate Change – alongside existing resources, this Aill further help work in key areas such as electric vehicle charging, energy generation projects, and biodiversity and Active Travel schemes.

£200,000 for Public Health and Protection Services – these services play a key role in the wellbeing of residents, communities and businesses.

Freeze on charges – for Leisure for Life, Meals on Wheels/Day Centre meals, school meals, car park charges, playing field fees, 3G sports pitch hire, Taxi Licenses and Rhondda Heritage Park/Lido Ponty.

Funding for Investment of £1m – to further progress the Council’s ambitious investment programme and deliver on its key priorities and

additional £75,000 for Detached Youth Support.

Cabinet will consider the Draft Budget Strategy on Thursday alongside a recommended timetable to set the 2022/23 revenue budget, which includes a second phase of budget consultation based on the proposals.

Councillor Andrew Morgan, Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said:

“The provisional Local Government Settlement presents a favourable position for Rhondda Cynon Taf in 2022/23, with an 8.4% budget increase reflecting the continued financial pressures and our response to the pandemic. It is the best position since I became Leader of the Council in 2014, and allows Cabinet Members to look at putting considerable investment back into vital services that support our communities.

“The draft budget to be considered on Thursday includes raising the minimum rate of pay above the Real Living Wage. We have been a Real Living Wage employer for many years, and in December that was extended to all independent sector social care staff employed by our commissioned service providers. I’m very pleased it is proposed to raise the rate for staff members to be above the Real Living Wage.

“The proposals also identify a further £4.9m of efficiency savings for next year. This is on top of the £4.6m identified in the current budget and brings the total saved through efficiencies to approximately £100m over the past 10 years.

“The proposed Council Tax increase of 1% represents the lowest proposed increase since Rhondda Cynon Taf was established. Our latest Medium Term Financial Plan was modelled on an increase of 2.65%, but in light of the more favourable settlement and balanced against continued pressures across our services and having due regard to pressures on household income, it has now been remodelled to a 1% increase. This is likely to be one of the lowest increases in Wales again.

“The strategy also contains additional funding that would be allocated for key services – including £11.2m across our schools, £15m for Social Services (including community services), £500,000 to tackle Climate Change, £100,000 for the Non-Domestic Rate Local Relief Scheme, £200,000 for Public Health, £1m Funding for Investment and £75,000 for Youth Support – while the Council is also absorbing some costs of the general Fees and Charges rise, ensuring that residents pay well below the rate of inflation.

“While next year’s position is positive, it should be noted that the settlement provided indicative budget levels for three years – outlining increases of 3.5% for 2023/24 and 2.4% for 2024/25. Based on continued pressures and ongoing impacts of the pandemic, this presents a less positive position and could see pressures from recent years return. We will continue with our prudent and robust financial management and Medium Term Financial Planning arrangements to mitigate these pressures going forward.”

 

By Gwynoro Jones

Former MP for Carmarthenshire, Gwynoro Jones joined the team covering politics in Wales. He has a wealth of experience in politics and has been a regular commentator on radio, TV and in newspapers in Wales. Email: gwynorojones@walesnewsonline.com

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