Vale warning issued: | News

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

– Politics

by GEM Staff ReporterGEM Reporter

MANAGING director Rob Thomas has warned that Vale Council services are under “serious threat” as a consequence of reduced funding.

The council has made savings of £55 million in the last nine years and needs to find a further £15m in the next three years. Of a reported annual budget of £225m, a saving of £5m a year represents around 2.2 per cent.

Reductions in funding provided by the Welsh Government, inflation and increasing pressures in services have left a shortfall between the cost of running council services and the money available to spend.

Council Tax rose by 3.9 per cent in the Vale last year in order to help bridge this gap – that was among the smallest increases in Wales, with many local authorities opting for a far more dramatic rise.

Speaking to BBC Wales Today, Mr Thomas stressed there will be serious consequences unless there is an acknowledgement of the value and importance of a range of local services provided by the council as well as a recognition of the increasing costs associated with providing them.

These services range from social care to education as well as public transport, neighbourhood services, environmental health, planning, economic development and housing. “I sympathise with residents because people are paying more, council tax is increasing,” he said.

“The simple fact is, it’s increasing because the money we get from Welsh Government is decreasing. We need to fill the gap, but this isn’t filling the gap completely and much-valued public services are under real threat if the situation continues.”

The £151.923m Welsh Government funding the council is expected to get in 2019/20 represents a reduction of 0.7 per cent, or £1.037m, from the previous year.

In real terms, when taking into account inflation and other factors such as national pay inflation and the non-funded teachers’ pension scheme, the budget reduction is more like 4.2 per cent.

Mr Thomas added: “As a council, we have been creative in coping with the difficult situation we find ourselves in. Rather than close libraries, for instance, we have made arrangements for them to be managed by the communities which they serve.

“We are also exploring similar initiatives in other areas. This includes working with partners across the region in delivering social care, developing shared services in important areas like environmental health to build resilience and cut costs and working with other councils across the region to attract investment and good quality jobs.

“However, the situation is getting increasingly difficult and there is a need for an urgent acknowledgement that in order to continue to deliver vital local services, local councils need to be funded adequately.”

The GEM contacted Cllr Neil Moore, leader of the Vale Council under the most recent administration, for a response.

He said: “I have read the Vale Council’s managing director’s comments on the financial position facing the Council and local government as a whole, and in general terms, I would concur with many issues raised.

“Local government has been seriously underfunded for many years and services are under ‘serious threat’ as a consequence. I am surprised that the quotes come from an officer of the council and not the Leader, when the responsibility for managing and setting the budget rests squarely on the Leader’s shoulders.

“Perhaps this is a way of the Conservatives in the Vale blaming others, before they raise the council tax to higher levels. It is also interesting that the managing director refers to the previous ‘Labour’ Council’s initiative of setting up community libraries as an example of good practice of alternative service provisions, but what isn’t said is that the Conservatives opposed it at the time.

“I challenge the contention that the lack of funding is the fault of the Labour Welsh Government. The reality is that local services have been protected in Wales, because Labour has not cut local government funding to the extent that Conservatives in Westminster have done. “The real fault lies with the Westminster Government, which has continually starved councils throughout the UK. A recent United Nations report said as much.

“Despite the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues claiming otherwise, ‘austerity’ is still with us.

“The current Conservative Leader of the Vale Council previously did not agree that the council should be campaigning against austerity.

“However, reality seems to have struck home. Regrettably, local people are having to use foodbanks and the council is failing to make promised savings they agreed to make.

“Instead the Conservative [-led] council is trying to inflict punitive parking charges on residents to make up their deficit as well as setting the scene for increases in Council Tax, which is ironic when they had previously argued for a zero-per-cent rise while in opposition.

“Their financial management is an utter disgrace and this is not a good time for the citizens of the Vale of Glamorgan.”


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