Penarth Town Council’s Policy and resources committee last night approved an increase of over 12% in the town council’s annual budget (up from £676,946 to £758,561).
The leader of the council and committee chairman Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines), opened a debate on the budget and on the consequent increase in the Town Precept [ the amount to be added to Vale of Glamorgan Council Tax Bills to cover the expenditure of Penarth Town Council ].
Cllr Cuddy said that “as expressed in percentage terms, the increase sounds a great deal. In pure monetary terms it’s from about £6.00 to £10.00 – not weekly, not monthly but annually“. “That” he said” is the reality of this in comparison to the budget of other institutions which claim precepts. It’s very small – and hopefully can be used with great impact”
He said there were three ways of looking at the shape of what the council was doing. One element was housekeeping competence and efficiency. The Council had also set out to consult the community about “what they’d like us to do over and above our normal services”. against a background in which the Vale Council was “re-shaping” services . Penarth Council wanted to preserve services and not to see them go. He said the council had “reserves” and it could judge how of those reserves needed to be applied in order to make the precept rise “acceptable” whilst retaining sufficient reserves to deal with contingencies.
Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell) said the increase of 12.6% in expenditure which was quoted in the council’s internal budget report was an “irrelevant comparison”. He said “The real figures we should be looking at should not be the original budget figures, but those comparing out-turn with out-turn” [ i.e. what the council actually spent in the last financial year] and reminded members of the press present they had “a duty to inform the public” accordingly. Cllr Courtney said that Penarth Town Council had consistently underspent against budget. There was therefore no reason to believe that the council would not underspend against the budget forecast this year [ 2016/17]. He calculated that the proposed “12.06% increase” for 2016/17, had it been calculated on “out-turns” since 2011/12 – would actually amount to a proposed increase of “around 5%” – and said this was an accurate figure to be quoted.
Cllr Cuddy said “It is terribly difficult to reconcile accounting procedures with everyday understanding”. Cllr Courtney said the Treasury’s Blue Book adopted a similar accounting principle – and saw no reason why the council should not be consistent with that and reminded members he had first-hand experience of dealing with these things.
Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell) – accepting the budget estimate for 2016/17 – proposed an increase in the precept of £2.60p which he said “equates to 5 pence a week increase in the precept on a Band D property”. This, he said, would be “a 4.51% increase.”
Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said “The problem is that these figures absolutely fine but we all know that the public never look at the figures – they look at the outcome – they look at how much their Council Tax Bill has gone up – which we know includes the Police Precept which is going to go up by probably 5% “. The Vale of Glamorgan Council – he said – had yet to declare its proposed increase in Council Tax but it would also “probably be getting-on for that sort of figure” [5%] … and then of course our own increase” [4.51%] .
Cllr Ernest said he recognised that Penarth Council had underspent – and that was admirable in terms of administration . He said “You might also argue why is it there is such a large underspend if last year we had a precept for that . The citizens of Penarth had to pay that amount of money – or else land-up in court” . Cllr Ernest agreed that Penarth Council was moving forward and had done so over a number of years. The problem was that at a time of austerity, when Central Government and the Welsh Assembly was “asking us all to be cautious in our spend” . Councillors had to answer for that to the general public. Cllr Ernest said he understood where councillors “were coming from on this” [in proposing the increased precept] but said it was “a hard one to put across to the people of Penarth” .
Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustines) seconded Cllr Wilson’s proposal for a 4.51% increase in the precept . He said “I think this council is ambitious. We have a number of things we want to do. What I would not want to see is to see is jeopardising those ambitions . ” Cllr Roberts said the proposed 4.51% rise in the precept was “frankly quite a modest increase” .
Cllr Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines) said he strongly supported Cllr Wilson’s proposal. Frugality he said was a “difficult balance” but it had been achieved – with ambition.He compared Penarth’s budgeting with that of the First Minister Carwyn Jones in the Welsh Labour Government.
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) said “I think the fact that we are staying so well within budget reflects well on all sides of the council” particularly in view of the “austerity pressures which have been imposed upon us from Central Government ” and he was surprised that in his remarks to the council Cllr Ernest had brought “austerity” to the attention of the council. Cllr Thomas said the “Event Cinema” [ in the Paget Rooms] had been more successful than had been budgeted for and was something that “we should congratulate ourselves on as being a success”.
Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said that much time had been spent in committees “looking at what we want to do as a council to be more ambitious and deliver improved services . Inevitably this is going to cost us money – there’s no doubt about that “. Cllr Turner thought the budget that had been set would “tackle all of the issues that we talked about and at the end of it we will see a much better Penarth than we have at the moment” .
Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said he didn’t disagree with Cllr Wilson’s proposed 4.51% increase . He said “We’re always in a cleft stick here because we need to go forward – but the other side of the coin is that people already think the rates are too high”.
Penarth, Cllr Williams said, suffered because the properties were such high-value compared with the Vale. Cllr Williams said “Sometimes the Council Tax is one of the biggest bills that someone has”. He saw the rationale for the proposed increase in the precept, but having said that, he knew that the public would think that even a 1% increase would “seem a burden as they already feel it is a high tax.”
Cllr Cuddy – responding – said that “We should try to relate to our own personal circumstances when the envelope comes through the letter-box”.
In the vote which followed, the motion to impose the new 4.51% increase in the Penarth Town Council precept was carried . No councillors voted against the proposal but – by PDN’s reckoning – three failed to vote at all. Their abstensions were not formally noted.