The Labour-controlled Penarth Town Council is now officially set to spend more council-taxpayers’ money than ever before in its history and has – in this month’s council meeting – approved expenditure (for 2017/18) of a record £920,695.
The plans for the council’s highest-ever spend have been revealed in a revised budget following from the chaotic Finance Committee meeting of December 20th at which the council had appeared to be on course to spend an even higher amount of £1,114,112 in 2017/18 – but was scaled back at the last-minute [see PDN backgrounder at the end of this item].
Now a revised final budget, with 2017/18 spend trimmed back to £920,695, has been presented to the full council and has been agreed.
To fund the huge £920,695 spend, the council is about to impose its highest ever “precept” [the Penarth part of the part of the Vale of Glamorgan Council 2017/18 Council Tax Bill]. The precept tax-take is to rise to £714,903 for 2017/18 and will be taken from the 11,292 households in the town. That means the town’s council-tax-precept will rise in 2017/18 by an inflation-busting 4.97% – [well in excess of the current rate of inflation which is 1.2%].
…,. BUT that 4.97% increase will not be anything like enough to pay for Penarth Council’s planned expenditure for 2017/18 – so the council is going to have to dig into its reserves to the tune of £45,000.
….AND – to make all these figures work – Penarth Council is making an ambitious assumption that it will be able to generate income of no less than £160,792 (from venue rentals and so on) during the year. That’s more income than the council has ever managed to generate in the past.
The single largest item in the spending budget is now “Office Administration” – budgeted at a record £367,178 . “Office Administration” – which includes the cost of the council’s burgeoning West House staff – is now set to comprise almost 40% of the council’s total expenditure in 2017/18.
In a discussion on the budget Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said “We understand the objectives and aims of the council but getting that message across to the public of Penarth is more difficult. We have not as yet looked at the fees and charges for the next financial year when the council will have to look at increasing those charges – because of the spend. “ He said the figures now showed considerable increases in Office Administration costs and Council administration.
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) said his interpretation of the headline figures was that the increase for council-tax payers in the town precept represented “less than 4% for a ‘Band D'” [meaning a Band D rated property].
PDN Note : Cllr Thomas subsequently claimed he had been misquoted. The council’s use of the discredited “Band D” comparison has already been criticised by local Conservative councillors as misleading because it does not represent the “average” household in Penarth – most of which are in higher bands]
Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said his colleagues on the SRG had already – in effect – approved the increase
[PDN Note: The term “SRG ” means the “Strategic Review Group” on which Cllr Turner sits with Labour councillors. Its meetings are not open to the public and its minutes are not published.]
Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell) wished to endorse “the general direction of travel about which there is a genuine cross-party consensus”. He said that “Penarth really is a rare place” which he said “consistently features very highly as a wonderful place to live. People do not mind paying money when they can see it is well-managed and well spent and it will increase the quality of their lives.”
Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell) supported Cllr Courtney’s remarks saying Penarth was a “premier town – one of the best places to live in Wales, if not the UK “. He said the Town Council had helped that – a good example of which was the new signage around the town which was “so much an improvement on what was there before“. There was more investment than before in Penarth and there were not that many [retail] vacancies in the town centre – unlike other towns. He said the [Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations legislation] was something on which the council would soon have to produce a detailed report – “and I think this budget will help us achieve that”.
The revised budget was formally approved and passed by mute assent.
PDN BACKGROUND: The new 2017/18 budget follows the chaotic policy and finance committee meeting of December 20th when no one had the right figures in front of them, the council’s spend for 2017/18 was estimated at £1,114,112 and the members of the controlling Labour group were accused of “taking fright” at their own budget.
That estimated £1,114,112 figure was so high that 40 minutes before the December 20th meeting, the Labour group embarked on a series of last-minute cut-and-slash cuts to try to reduce the size of the spend. Large chunks of budgeted cash were removed from the budgets of the Summer Festival and the Christmas Festival (last year’s events had both been strongly criticised) and from Picnic Penarth. Labour councillors were later accused by Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) of having “taken fright” at their own draft budget.
A follow-up Finance Committee meeting scheduled for January 8th 2017 was cancelled and the Full Council meeting – at which the final figures were due to have been agreed – which was supposed to be held on January 19th, but was postponed for a week .