Posted: Wed 28th Feb 2024

Blaenau Gwent Council Budget Tweaks Result in Lower Than Expected Council Tax Rise /

TWEAKS have been made to the Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council budget for 2024/2025 which will see the council tax rise drop to 4.95 per cent.
The rise is slightly less than the five per cent hike that was endorsed in the draft budget for 2024/2025 last week by the council’s Labour cabinet.
Blaenau Gwent will receive an extra £3.95 million from the Welsh Government for next year and will have a total budget of £183.34 million to run services such as schools, social services, rubbish collection and street lighting.
The issue is that the council estimates that it needs just under £189 million to operate.
This creates a funding gap to be filled by savings and cuts.
The gap could potentially rise to £34 million by 2029 and the council is putting together a raft of proposals to address the problem.
At the meeting on Tuesday, February 27, council leader Labour’s Cllr Steve Thomas took members through the budget proposals, which will see cuts and savings of £6.618 million made in the coming year.
Other financial pressures have been added to this figure which give a funding gap of £8.3 million to be worked on during 2024/2025.
Due to this Cllr Thomas predicted the need to use £1.4 million in reserves.
He explained that dropping council tax down by 0.05 per cent would take £19,000 away from the council’s budget, but this would be covered by using reserves.
Independent group deputy leader Cllr Wayne Hodgins put forward the opposition group’s council tax proposal and pointed to Cllr Thomas’s statements at last week’s cabinet meeting.
Last Wednesday, February 21, Cllr Thomas had said that the expected use of £4 million in reserves to balance this year’s budget had dropped to around £2 million.
Cllr Hodgins said: “We’ve come up with a slightly different figure, we’re looking at 4.75 per cent.
“On the current figures it’s an extra draw (on reserves) of around £95,000.”
Cllr Hodgins said that both Labour and Independent group councillors “see hardship on a daily basis” with their involvement with foodbanks and health and wellbeing initiatives.
He believed that £95,000 could be found from some of the efficiencies and cost saving projects that the council is working on.
Cllr Thomas said that he had to think of the council’s future financial position.
Using an analogy from the World War Two film The Great Escape, he compared the UK’s finances to allied prisoners of war still being in “the tunnel” and “nowhere near the woods” where they would make their escape.
Cllr Thomas said: “We’ve gone to the limit and can’t afford anymore.”
Councillors then proceeded to a vote, with 19 voting against the amendment for a 4.75 per cent council tax rise, with 10 voting for.
This vote was then reversed and saw the 4.95 per cent council tax rise and budget agreed.
Earlier in the meeting councillors had discussed the need for more weight in the funding formula to be given to address deprivation in parts of Wales.
In the Welsh Government settlement for next year, Blaenau Gwent has gone up the funding table from last in 2023/2024 to 15th of 22 local authorities for 2024/2025.
Cllr Thomas said: “I’ll continue to badger everyone I can to get a better deal for Blaenau Gwent.
“The issue is that the funding formula is complex but also is probably 25 years out of date – the other issue all over Wales people are saying the same thing.
“You can change the proposition of the cake but what we really need is a bigger cake and I put that firmly at the helm of the Tories in London who have not increased Welsh funding.”
The changes mean that a band B property, which accounts for most homes in the borough, will see a £1.35 per week increase in their council tax. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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