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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Paying the price

The Welsh Local Government Association told the Assembly Finance Committee today that Council taxes in Wales could rise by between 8-10% next year:

WLGA leader Derek Vaughan maintained the planned increase had been "met with fury right across local government."

"The increase of 2.2% in our RSG (Revenue Support Grant) was the lowest we've seen in living memory," he said.

"To balance the books next year they (councils) really will need to increase the council tax by 8-10%, and we've had some local authorities telling us that already," he added.

Councils will find out tomorrow how much they are likely to get but the WLGA said that some were expecting a funding increase of only 1%, a cut in real terms of 2.4%. Powys is expected to get the lowest settlement among the twenty two Welsh local authorities - possibly in the region of 1%. It was also suggested that a total of three local authorities were likely to face a settlement below 1.5%.

In response Plaid Cymru AM Mohammad Asghar accused the WLGA of scaremongering and called on local authorities to start making real efficiency savings. If these predictions prove to be correct then the Labour-Plaid Government will have to do much better than that in explaining to voters why they have forced up their council tax levels and cut their services.
It will be interesting to see how Plaid AMs defend the settlement for their local authority heartlands in the North. All the rumours are that the authorities with a 1.5% increase are all for some reason in the northwest. Both Alun Ffred Jones who should know better and Mohammed Asghar who is out of his depth will come to regret this morning's performance in the Finance Committee.
If, as you suggest, Powys ends up with 1% then this is proof positive that the Cardiff Bay bubble has nothing but contempt for the rural hinterland. It also belies Plaid's claim to be the champion of rural Wales.

Liberal Democrat AMs must not let Andrew Davies get away with this. Doesn't the Assembly's Finance Committee do scrutiny? If Betsan Powys is to be believed, the AMs have got a lot to learn about the scrutiny process.
If the WLGA cared about the interests of the council tax payer they would approach the assembly government and westminster with a proposal to reduce the number of councils in wales and the numbers of councillors etc. In return for which they would take over the role of the Local health boards.

Its idiotic that we have RCT which is three times the size of Torfaen. At most we need three unitary authorities in North Wales not six.

TFewer councils with greater control over their own policies etc would be a reasonable trade and save the tax payer a fortune.
Perhaps Andrew Davies should look to his native Herefordshire for inspiration. There the County Council and the Primary Care Trust have appointed a joint Chief Executive. The savings of one tier of officers will reach £3.5m ayear by year 3.
Interesting as this comment in Mark, I do not see how it solves the present crisis facing local government as a result of the actions of Labour and Plaid Cymru.

There may well be a case for reducing the number of Councils, though if they were to take over Primary Care Commissioning in the health service as I believe too, then they will not be able to afford too sharp a cut in the number of Councillors.

My experience of reorganisation however is that it is expensive and very disruptive. I have not known one that has delivered large savings and do not see why your proposal will be any different.

What it would do is to create huge uncertainty and organisational chaos for years to come. Worthy as this proposal is do not expect it to be the holy grail you suggest.
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