Attempts by Plaid Cymru and Independent Councillors – to halt yet another inflation-busting increase in Council Tax being inflicted on local residents by the Labour-controlled Vale of Glamorgan Council – were thwarted last night when Labour councillors voted en-bloc to impose the rise.
The Labour Party will now increase Vale Council Tax by 2.8% for 2017/18 on top of a 5% increase in the South Wales Police precept and a 4.97% increase in the Penarth Town Council Precept. The two councils and the police are controlled by the Labour Party.
The increases mean that council-tax-payers in Penarth and across the Vale of Glamorgan – will be facing their highest-ever Council Tax bills – despite the fact that the wages, salaries and pensions of most people in the Vale have barely risen at all. [UK inflation is 1.8%].
Both Plaid Cymru and Independent members of the Vale Council called for a recorded vote to be carried out – so that when the minutes of the meeting are eventually published the names of those councillors who voted for the increase will become known to the voting public.
Plaid Cymru’s group leader, Cllr Ian Johnson, proposed a zero increase in Council Tax and challenged Labour’s motion to increase Council Tax with “some simple facts”. He said that if the motion was agreed then, under Labour and the Llantwit First Independents [the pro-Labour group which props up Labour-control of the council and is not connected to the other Independents on the Council] would have increased Council Tax by 21.5% in the past 5 years .
Cllr Johnson pointed out that – in contrast – the leader of the Labour-run Barry Town Council had said his council was “not asking people to go into their pockets when people in Barry are struggling to put food on the table”. This was – Cllr Johnson said – clearly not the approach of the Labour Party on the Vale Council who had consistently increased Council Tax and reserves, whilst “pleading poverty and blaming others”.
Cllr Johnson said the 21.5% was higher than inflation, and higher than borrowing costs in the same period which were close to historic lows. He said aid the Vale Council’s figures were “will’o-the-wisp” figures .
Cllr Johnson said he had sat through meetings in which it was claimed that £40,000 could not be found to sustain the council’s “Meals on Wheels” service to elderly people and that £10,000 was not available to install anti-crime alley-gates in wards. He pointed out that although councillors had been told reserves were £47,500,000 the actual figures in front of councillors now showed reserves of £65,000,000 – a difference of £17,500,000.
Cllr Johnson said “We should not be taking money from our citizens if it’s not necessary for us to do so”
Cllr Johnson also criticised the Labour administration’s use of the controversial and misleading so-called “Band D” valuation figure for comparing Vale Council tax with other authorities in Wales. Band D he said, was used as a multiplier – a yardstick against which all other council tax bands are calculated – but fact there was a much higher proportion of higher value properties in the Vale of Glamorgan than the all-Wales average. The Vale of Glamorgan residents paid the second highest percentage of Council Tax of any local authority .With irony, he said “Well-done Labour”.
The Leader of the Conservative Group on the Vale of Glamorgan Council Cllr John Thomas said his group would also be opposing the Labour administration’s budget “as we believe that the Council Tax increase is not acceptable”.
Cllr Thomas said that Labour had “not done enough to find savings and that the ‘Re-shaping Services’ agenda is not delivering the required savings. He said there was “no appetite within the executive for outsourcing services to the private sector” – the previous Conservative administration had outsourced the Leisure Centres which had been recognised as a great success. He also criticised the level of funding the council received from the Welsh Labour Government – which had been in power for 18 years.
Cllr Adam Riley (Independent Rhoose) said that although times were difficult for councils they were also difficult for the people of the Vale of Glamorgan. “Expecting local taxpayers to just pick up the tab for the reduction of Welsh Government funding lacks imagination ” he said “and it looks really bad – like we treat the people of the Vale like a cash cow”.
Cllr Bob Penrose (Independent Sully) said the Independent Group would not be supporting any motion to increase council tax by 2.8% . He put forward a counter-motion for a zero increase in Council Tax, said the Labour administration had – over the past 5 years – blamed “both the Welsh Government and Westminster “ for reducing its funding levels – but “this time that excuse cannot realistically be used as there has been very little reduction in funding from the Welsh Government” .
The Independents also pointed out that the Labour administration had failed to reach its published “savings targets“, had overspent in some areas, and had had to withdraw money from council reserves. The Independents also dismissed the Labour administration’s much-vaunted “Re-shaping Services” programme as “a report full of mission statements with little or no achievements” .
Cllr Bertin (Independent) said the Vale Labour administration’s “inflation-busting council tax increases are really hitting people hard in the pocket . It is neither reasonable nor fair to the tax-payer. I hope voters remember this come May’s election.”
Cllr Bertin went on to allege that the council was “bribing the electorate with playgrounds” – including 2 in his ward.
Cllr Kevin Mahoney (Independent Sully) said “I don’t see why the Vale of Glamorgan residents should be so substantially hard-done-by in the settlement of Welsh Government”. He asked Council Leader Neil Moore (Labour Cadoc Ward) – “Why aren’t you fighting for Vale residents with the Welsh Assembly? We know that many millions of pounds have been sent from Westminster to the Welsh Assembly specifically to freeze or reduce Council Tax rises in Wales – and has been kept by them instead of being passed on”. This money – he said – had not been distributed by the Welsh Government in the way it was intended.
Cllr Mahoney said the Welsh Labour Government’s First Minister Carwyn Jones had chartered a plane for £10,000 to go and watch a football match in the European Championships. Sixty Assembly Members had taken an 18% pay rise – an increase of £10,000 a year. He said “It seems there’s no austerity for them”.
Cllr Mahoney asked Cllr Moore – “When are you going to fight for the right of Vale residents to get a fairer deal?”
llr Lis Burnett (Labour St Augustines and Deputy Leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council) said the council would be funding both Social Services and Education at £3,000,000 above SSA . “This is a budget for the future- the future of our children and a dignified future for our most vulnerable”. She said “If we are going to build schools we need to have put money away in reserves first” . “We talk about where the blame lies” she said and urged colleagues to look at council tax rates in England which – she claimed were “far higher” than those in Wales.
Cllr Burnett went on to claim that savings of “£500,000” had been achieved by reducing the size of the council’s so-called “cabinet” (of which she is a member) to 5 and with no expenses being claimed by its members.
[PDN Note: In fact the reduction in the size of the so-called cabinet was unplanned and fortuitous and came about, not because of “savings“, but because Cllr Rob Curtis resigned from the cabinet after an incident in which he assaulted a 17-year-old girl on a birdwatching expedition and was later suspended from the council and resigned . A second ‘cabinet’ member – Cllr Chris Elmore – stepped down when he was elected Labour MP for Ogmore – but retained his council seat and his seat on the Cardiff and Vale Health Board]
Cllr Gwyn John (Llantwit First Independents) claimed that “electioneering” had gone on in the chamber. Cllr Burtin and others pressing for no increase in Council Tax would – he said – “take this council right to the bowels of the earth by spending all your reserves . It can’t be done!”
Summing up the debate Vale Council Leader Neil Moore (Labour Cadoc Ward) said if the council did what Cllr Ian Johnson proposed, that would leave £6,786,000 in the fund .which went against the advice given by a “Section 151 officer”. Cllr Moore claimed that £7,000,000 was the minimum reserve required by the council. [ A point later rebutted by Cllr Johnson]
Responding to Cllr Mahoney’s criticism, Cllr Moore said he had argued with Welsh Government for better funding for the Vale Council – and would continue to do so.
The council’s reserves – he said – were there for a specific purpose and it was not possible to use them for anything else because “they have been allocated for that particular purpose “. He denied that the budget was “out of control” and said it was “absolutely not”.
On the £4,000,000 “favourable variance” , Cllr Moore admitted that the council had – over the past year – “collected more Council Tax than we thought- and as a result what did we do this year ? We put our base rate up – so tghat we ex[pect to collect more. The reason that we did not put it up last year was we thought of the effect of austerity”
Cllr Moore said some schools would be affected by a reduction in post -6 education budgets – “and we are addressing those issues day by day”. He admitted they affected 6th form provision – but that was because “the number of 6th form pupils is going down”.
On “play areas” which allegedly are being redeveloped as an election bribe Cllr Moore said the council was very proud of its performance.
Of the Council Tax rise he said “It’s not a sting to the residents because it’s still less than £1 a week ” [ PDN Note: A figure which is manifestly incorrect as far as the majority of Penarth residents are concerned]
On the money sent by the UK Government to the Welsh Government to fund a freeze on Council TaX in Wales Cllr Moore said “Yes they did send money and the Welsh Assembly Government decided not to actually keep it [ there were several interruptions at this point at which the First Minister’s £10,000 airliner charter to a football match was raised]. Cllr Moore continued “Should he have chartered a plane ? I don’t know whether it was reasonable or not. Why paid for it? I don’t know”. As far as the money paid towards the Council Tax freeze was concerned that – Cllr Moore said ” was used for other purposes which was agreed within the Assembly”
Cllr Moore said the Vale Council had improved all the schools in the area and “yes we have money in reserves” . Cllr Moore said there was electioneering going on in the chamber “but not by us” . I am proud of what we have done as an authority – we are the best performing authority in Wales. We have produced schools, we’ve regenerated lots of areas including – obviously – Barry Island “. He urged members to support the budget – and the consequent Council Tax rise .
The Plaid amendment – seeking a zero increase in Council Tax – was voted down by 24 against to 21 for. Amongst the 21 voting for no increase was Cllr Clive Williams (Independent Plymouth Ward) who was formerly a Conservative member and now sits as an Independent Councillor.
The Labour motion to impose the council tax increase was voted through by 24 votes for and 21 against