Councils across Wales heard yesterday what they would be receiving to help pay their way in the next financial year.Denbighshire believes its settlement is better than expected and that a reduction of 1.2% in cash terms is much less than feared.
However, the authority says this still means that its budget is reducing while demand for services and cost pressures increase.
Councillor Julian Thompson-Hill, Cabinet Lead Member for Finance and Assets, said: “We have been working on the assumption that we would need to find savings for 2016/17 and this is the case, although the settlement announced by the Welsh Government is better than expected.
“We are on schedule to deliver a budget for 2016/17 and the council will need to consider the final detail in the coming weeks, including the impact on council tax levels.“The vast majority (82%) of the savings made so far over the last two years have been through efficiency or other measures which have not had a negative impact on services to the public and that has been down to careful planning and making savings through working more efficiently.”
Clwyd South AM Ken Skates said: “The Welsh Labour Government has again done its utmost to protect local authorities, including Denbighshire, from the severity of Tory austerity.“The reduction of just 1.2% is much lower than what Denbighshire had been anticipating and considerably less than what councils in England have endured.
“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to cut council settlements at all, but given that the UK Government has slashed the Welsh budget by £1.3bn since 2010-11 we have no choice. However, this is a considerably better settlement than local authorities were expecting.“We have protected the funding for local councils over the course of this Assembly term – in stark contrast to the way the Tory Government at Westminster has slashed English council budgets by around 10% in cash terms over the past five years.
“In Wales, they’ve gone up almost 3% over the same period."* Wrexham Council had been planning for a 4.5% cut in the amount it gets from the Welsh Government, but yesterday learned the reduction would be 2% at most – meaning the authority will have at least £4.3m more than expected.
* North Wales Assembly Member Mark Isherwood challenged the Finance Minister in the Assembly Chamber this week over her Draft Budget.
AM challenges Finance Minister over Draft Budget
Mr Isherwood (pictured) questioned the Minister, Jane Hutt AM, on a number of areas of spending, including health and housing, but claims she failed to answer his questions.
He said: “How much did you receive in consequence of the UK Government’s increased spending on health in England? How much did you receive in consequence of the UK Government’s announcement of the biggest house building programme by any government since the 1970s, for England? And how much of that additional money will you be allocating to new housing supply in Wales during 2016-17, after the devastating cuts imposed on housing since 1999 in Wales?
“Finally, what consideration will you give to rescuing the key services being delivered by third sector bodies across Wales, which have been improving lives and saving millions for statutory services for decades, such as Disability Wales and many others, given that when I wrote to the Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister on behalf of third sector bodies regarding core funding for the Families First programme, the reply I received was that the late timing of the UK Government’s spending review posed challenges for budget planning?”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Isherwood added: “It is very revealing that this Finance Minister wouldn’t answer my questions. We have consistently warned Labour about the consequences of their failure to adequately invest in the Welsh NHS – and with 1 in 7 people in Wales on a waiting list, the number waiting over 26 weeks for treatment up by 70% since 2011, and Wales’ critical care bed capacity the lowest in Europe, the consequences of Labour’s savage cuts have been vast. Presently, adjusted for age - and reflected by our increasingly ageing population - health spending per capita in Wales remains £50 lower than in England.
“She knows full well that I have been calling for action to tackle the housing supply crisis in Wales created by Labour Ministers since devolution in 1999, and that Welsh Conservatives recognise the need for a whole market solution that delivers all types of affordable housing, including social housing.
“It is also unforgivable that they are jeopardising key services provided by third sector bodies such as Disability Wales, when Welsh Government needs instead to be asking them how they can help to do things differently, improve lives and deliver better value for the budget available.”