Promoted by Mark Ward-Jones on behalf of the Torfaen Constituency Labour Party at 27 Brunel Road, Fairwater, Cwmbran, Torfaen NP44 4QT.
Torfaen council has today agreed its budget for 2016/17. Full council approved a report pledging that despite cuts in funding, more money will be set aside for schools, protecting the vulnerable and cleaning the borough.
In December, the Welsh Government informed the council that it would receive a 1.7 per cent reduction in funding – a cut in cash of more than £2.2million. While this is less severe than the council was expecting, it still represents a challenging settlement and the council has to make difficult choices. Torfaen council’s deputy leader with responsibility for resources, councillor Anthony Hunt, said: “This situation is the unfortunate result of cuts from the UK government. We would not choose to be in this position, but our job is to do the best we can to protect local services. Thankfully, at least the Welsh Government has acted to help us safeguard services like schools, social care for the vulnerable and cleaning up the borough.”
“We’re doing our best in tough times to invest in the public’s priorities. Because of this budget, despite our funding being cut, Torfaen’s schools will have an extra £800,000 to spend on raising educational standards. We’ve protected spending on social care, to help protect the most vulnerable people in our communities. There’s also an extra £250,000 to help deliver on our new corporate plan priority of keeping the borough cleaner and greener. These were the priorities shared by the public when we undertook our engagement exercises on our new corporate plan, and this budget starts the job of delivering in those areas. We’ve also committed to paying the Living Wage for all Torfaen staff, in recognition of their hard work providing vital local services. On top of our commitment to paying the Registration Fees of our Teaching Assistants, this shows our commitment to being a responsible employer and to partnership working with our staff and their unions. As our staff mostly live locally, the living wage will be a boost for the local community.”
Money has also been set aside to limit the rise in council tax to 3.95 per cent, down on last year’s rise and less than previously planned. This means a band D property’s council tax will increase to £1,140.84 (2016/17), an increase of almost 85p per week. We recognise that hard-pressed local residents would prefer no rise in council tax, so we’ve done what we can to limit the rise. However, councillors have to balance that against the risk of valued local services closing if further cuts were made, and councillors judged that this budget gets that balance right. Council tax only represents about 14 per cent of our funding, so when central government is cutting funding, it puts councils in a difficult position.
The leader of the council, councillor Bob Wellington CBE, said: “The length and severity of cuts means balancing the budget becomes harder every year and tough choices are inevitable. However, the cornerstone of this council is to protect vital front line services that residents rely on. Times remain tough, but the settlement from Welsh Government shows that ministers are listening to local government leaders and working with us to protect local services from the worst impacts of austerity.”
Cllr Hunt added: “Great credit must go to our AM Lynne Neagle for being one of the first AMs to voice the cause of Local Government in the Assembly and ensure that local services like social care and education had an advocate in the Senedd arguing for fairer funding. This budget also shows the value of a Labour Government in Wales working with Councils to help local services survive despite the difficulties caused by austerity from the UK Government. The contrast could not be clearer with the situation facing many local Councils in England, who are struggling to hold together the very fabric of local services as the rug is pulled from under their funding.”
This budget has taken some difficult decisions, savings in local services that we would not make out of choice but have to do to make the budget balance. But this is a budget that, despite difficult financial times, shows our core Labour values in action:
· A council investing in our childrens’ schools
· A council investing in social care services to protect the vulnerable
· A council investing in a cleaner, greener local environment
· A council that values its workforce, working in partnership with unions and paying at least the Living Wage to all employees
· A council that listens to the priorities of residents and elected members
· A council working with the Labour Welsh Government to protect our communities from the impact of austerity