Posted: Sat 2nd Mar 2024

Newport Council Approves Budget Proposals Despite Lengthy Funding Argument /

Newport Council’s budget proposals for the coming year have been approved despite a lengthy argument over funding for local services.
Council tax bills will go up by 8.5% in April after an “alternative budget” proposed by opposition councillors was voted down.
It means people living in Band D properties will pay an extra £117 in council tax over the next year, or the equivalent of £2.26 more each week.
Council figures show most city residents, who live in properties in bands A-C, will pay between £78 and £104 more tax next year (£1.50-£2.01 each week).
At a meeting on Thursday (February 29), council leader Jane Mudd was one of many Labour representatives who criticised Westminster’s funding levels for local government in Wales, delivered via settlements with the Welsh Government.
She told colleagues the council’s ability to spend on public services was limited because of decisions taken at the highest UK level.
The ensuing debate was an opportunity to discuss the city council’s proposals for savings and investment, yet it regularly descended into party political whataboutism, in which councillors traded criticisms of the Conservatives’ record in Westminster and Welsh Labour’s decisions in Cardiff Bay.
The meeting heard references to Cardiff Airport, the M4 relief road, more Senedd members, Rishi Sunak’s plane, UK tax breaks and spending on PPE – but none of these outgoings are the responsibility of Newport councillors nor were included in the city’s budget proposals.
When councillors did focus on matters within their remit, Cllr Mudd said the budget proposals were set in a “very challenging environment” with growing demand for council services, especially in homelessness and children’s social care.
The council’s savings proposals were “relatively small by historical standards”, she added.
Cllr Pat Drewett, also Labour, called the budget “prudent”, while deputy leader Deb Davies said the council had avoided including any “hare-brained ideas”.
Several opposition councillors called on the authority to address the condition of the city’s roads – Conservative councillor David Fouweather branded them a “disgrace”.
Conservative opposition leader Matthew Evans criticised the council for persevering with an 8.5% council tax rise despite the plan being unpopular with the public during consultation.
“You go out to listen to the public and then ignore them completely,” he said.
But cabinet member James Clarke shot back that the Conservatives should have put forward their own alternative proposals.
One group which did suggest an alternative budget was the Lliswerry independents’ group, proposing a 4.64% council tax rise in a plan which Cllr Mark Howells called “bold” and supportive of “residents who are struggling”.
But a succession of Labour councillors criticised the independents’ plan, in particular skewering a proposal to use council reserves to fund a removal of out-of-county placements for vulnerable children and instead care for them in Newport.
Several called that move a “gamble” which risked the council’s ability to invest in capital projects. 
Cllr Davies and Labour colleague Dimitri Batrouni both told the meeting that out-of-county placements at specialist centres were a necessity.
“It’s costly but is the right thing for these children,” Cllr Davies added. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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