Connect with us
Advertisement
Advertisement

Politics

Councils’ budgets ‘war of attrition’

Published

on

The cost of cuts: Councils will lose 4.5% net

THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT settlement announced by Welsh Government continues an eight-year run of real term reductions to local government funding.

That’s according to the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) in response to Tuesday’s (Oct 10) announcement of the provisional budget for local government by Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford.

The Welsh Government claims the Budget will ‘protect key services’, as they continue to squeeze councils into devoting an ever-larger slice of an ever-diminishing budget to its core priorities.

‘COUNCILS PROTECTED FROM WORST OF CUTS’

While the Welsh Government claims that no council will have to cut more than 1% off its budget next year and 1.5% off the budget for 2019/20, when other costs are factored in all councils will be faced with a further significant cut above and beyond the headline claims. And taking Welsh government grants out of the final settlement suggests that cuts will be deeper still.

Announcing the provisional settlement, Mark Drakeford said: “Last year I told local authorities to prepare for the tougher times and harder choices that lay ahead as the flawed and failed policy of austerity continues to hit Wales hard.

“My priority, using a formula we have agreed with local government, is to try and protect councils from the worst of the cuts.

“Next year’s settlement might be difficult. We have done all we can to make it manageable. Councils must now use this time to plan ahead and ensure that funding goes to the services and people who need it the most.”

‘SERVICES HAVE BEEN PUMMELLED’

Professor Drakeford’s words got a stony welcome from the WLGA.

A statement from the body said: “In the context of ongoing and prolonged austerity, councils will view this as a very difficult and challenging settlement for supporting vital services that contribute to the education, health and well- being of our communities.

“Leaders across Wales have pushed for parity of funding and particularly sought new investment in a range of services, such as economic development, environmental health and transport, which have been pummelled by cuts.

“The headline reduction of 0.5% fails to recognise the full story; with service pressures that amount to £212m in 2018-19 alone, the sector will have to look for savings of nearly 4.5% of net budgets in the next financial year. This comes on top of cuts of over £1bn that have been made to date and 25,000 job losses across the sector. While the reduction is within the range predicted by the WLGA, local government is still bearing the heaviest burden of austerity.”

‘POSITION IS UNSUSTAINABLE’

Commenting on the draft settlement, Councillor Debbie Wilcox (Newport), WLGA Leader said: “The problem for local government is that we are now in a ‘war of attrition’. Services are wearing down to the point of collapse and the public are rightly growing frustrated in terms of paying council tax and yet seeing key community functions cut or closed.

“The whole position is unsustainable. Local authorities cannot go on to be expected to make the harshest of cuts whilst continuing to provide the same breadth and level of service; in short, something has got to give. “

‘WORKFORCE DESERVES A PAY RISE’

Councillor Emlyn Dole (Carmarthenshire), WLGA Plaid Cymru Group Leader said: “Welsh councils will still face severe financial pressures estimated to be over £200m for the next financial year alone due to demographic factors and workforce related pressures.

“I would urge the UK Government to use its Budget announcement in November to fully fund any relaxation of the pay cap. Every 1% increase in pay costs the public sector around £100m, and £35m of that is attributable to councils.

“Our workforce deserves a pay rise. In this context, local government funding must be more flexible and the transfer of nearly £100m of grants into the settlement is a positive step. I would urge Ministers to think about the other funding flexibilities for the other £700m in grants which put an additional administrative burden on the public services.”

UNDERFUNDED AND UNSUSTAINABLE

Councillor Hugh Evans OBE (Denbighshire), WLGA Independent Group Leader said: “The funding formula delivers a range of increases and decreases across the 22 local authorities. We need to make sure that the system takes account of the additional needs of providing services in communities with diverse needs and especially the additional costs of providing services in rural communities which are dramatically underfunded.”

Councillor Peter Fox OBE (Monmouthshire), WLGA Conservative Group Leader said: “Social services and education should be funded on equal terms with health, which means providing the £160m that both services need to stand still next year. There are also a range of preventative services within councils that will not survive unless the Welsh Government has a long hard look at the way it allocates money across the totality of public services. Ring-fencing small sums in the settlement for those services is like robbing Peter to pay Paul, as other services suffer.”

‘SERIOUS CASH INJECTION REQUIRED’

UNISON has also criticised the Welsh government’s budget for local authority spending as wholly inadequate. The trade union has warned thousands of jobs will be lost and local public services will be reduced or disappear completely because councils are under severe financial pressure.

UNISON also blasted Welsh Government’s failure to fund the implement of the Foundation Living Wage to lift thousands of council workers out of in-work poverty, something it says could have been achieved with a relatively modest injection of cash.

Dominic MacAskill, UNISON head of local government said: “Today’s news is grim indeed. People can’t understand why their library opening hours will have to be reduced or their youth club shut down in the name of austerity. Communities need quality local services otherwise they cease to be healthy and liveable places but councils are struggling to provide these and more – parks and leisure services, food hygiene and environment health services, on the meagre budgets Welsh Government has today granted.

“Savage spending cuts might be directed by Westminster Conservatives but the Welsh Government must see the lack of new money for local authorities in the announcement today will mean thousands more council jobs are lost and services at smaller councils might collapse altogether. Our warning couldn’t be starker: without a serious injection of cash, some councils will become unsustainable.”

Mr MacAskill added: “Public service workers will be incredibly frustrated their concerns are not being listened to. Welsh government has missed an opportunity to lift thousands of hard working council staff out of in-work poverty by failing to fund the Foundation Living Wage for all local government employees. They agreed this was necessary in the NHS and the Civil Service, why can’t they do it for all public service workers?”

Politics

Welsh budget timetable ‘stifles scrutiny’

Published

on

THE CHAIR of the Senedd’s finance committee criticised Welsh Government plans to once again publish the draft budget just days before the Christmas recess.

Peredur Owen Griffiths raised concerns about publishing the draft spending plans for next year on December 10 – shortly before Senedd members go on holiday for three weeks.

The Plaid Cymru politician sympathised with the Welsh Government’s position about a lack of clarity on the budget settlement from Westminster.

But Mr Owen Griffiths challenged claims there is “no better alternative” in the current circumstances to publishing the 2025/26 draft budget on December 10.

He said the timetable does not sufficiently take into account concerns raised by Senedd committees after scrutiny of this year’s draft budget which made steep cuts to services.

In a letter to Wales’ finance secretary, dated July 11, Mr Owen Griffiths said: “Several committees called for more time to be made available to scrutinise the draft budget.

“We agree that the shortened timescales last year made it extremely challenging … to meaningfully assess the impact the draft budget has on policy areas within their remit.”

The former bank manager, who represents South Wales East, called for further justification on why a longer scrutiny window was not considered.

Mr Owen Griffiths said this would be highly beneficial, allowing committees to hold more evidence sessions on the draft budget this side of Christmas.

He stressed that the finance secretary is ultimately responsible for setting the budget and the proposed timing of the draft budget is within the Welsh Government’s gift.

Mr Owen Griffiths said uncertainty on the settlement must be balanced with the magnitude of the Senedd’s task in scrutinising spending plans.

He warned: “Detailed scrutiny which meets the needs and expectations of … the public at large cannot be achieved under the proposed timetable.”

He welcomed the Welsh Government’s willingness to revisit the proposed timetable once the UK Government’s budget date is known.

Mr Owen Griffiths criticised ministers for failing to adhere to a two-stage budget process.

He wrote: “We find it regrettable that you are proposing circumventing the process again this year – the sixth year in a row that this has happened.”

Mr Owen Griffiths called for ministerial evidence papers to be published alongside the draft budget – a point not addressed in the finance secretary’s letter on the timetable.

Rebecca Evans said she considered publishing an earlier draft budget, based on indicative figures, which would need to be revised once the settlement is clear.

But she warned this would not provide enough certainty.

She wrote: “We are, once again, obliged to recognise that the only prudent choice is to work on the basis that our settlement will be announced during the autumn term.

“And to follow a budget timetable akin to that employed in recent years, where we publish our draft budget close to the Christmas recess.”

Ms Evans said the Welsh Government will provide a firm timetable once the UK Government makes an announcement on its budget.

She told Senedd members the plan is to publish the final budget on February 25, 2025.

The finance secretary, who was appointed six years ago, wrote: “We are committed to ensuring the fullest possible scrutiny of our spending proposals.

“As a result, the timetable I have set out would enable seven weeks and four days for scrutiny of the draft budget, including four sitting weeks and four days.”

Ms Evans stressed that the timetable is driven by external factors “beyond our immediate control” and there is no currently better alternative.

Continue Reading

News

Proposal to give firefighters a council tax discount to go to Cabinet

Published

on

PEMBROKESHIRE on-call firefighters could enjoy a reduction in council tax “in recognition of the vital work performed” by them if a call is backed by senior councillors.

At the July 18 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, a Notice of Motion submitted by Newport and Dinas county councillor, and leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Huw Murphy was heard.

Cllr Murphy’s call stated: “There is currently a significant and severe shortage in suitable applicants coming forward to be on-call fire fighters (retained) for the Mid & West Wales Fire Service.

“Currently there are vacancies for on-call fire fighters at all fire stations throughout the region, which impacts considerably upon the safety of both residents and visitors who may need the assistance of the Fire Service. Pembrokeshire is heavily reliant on our on-call firefighters.

“In recognition of the vital work performed by our on-call fire fighters (retained not full time employees of the service) and to encourage others to consider undertaking this vital role within our communities this Notice of Motion proposes that Pembrokeshire County Council offers every retained fire-fighter working and living in Pembrokeshire a 10 per cent reduction in the council tax they pay after achieving a qualifying period of service annually, to be determined by the Chief Fire Officer.”

At the July 18 meeting, members agreed Cllr Murphy’s call be considered by the council’s Cabinet at a later date.

Continue Reading

News

Newly elected Labour MP reveals how she was raped, age 15

Published

on

NEWLY elected Labour MP Natalie Fleet has bravely revealed how she was raped at the age of 15.
In a harrowing GBNews.com interview to be broadcast this Sunday (July 21), Ms Fleet says she still has “weekly nightmares” about what happened two decades on from the attack.
After being raped, Ms Fleet fell pregnant but says the daughter she gave birth to is now the “love of her life”.
Sitting down with GB News’ Gloria De Piero in an exclusive interview she explains that she’s decided to speak about what happened because the actions of her attacker – who told her to have an abortion – were “not ok”.
Ms Fleet also fears many women are suffering and unable to get the support they need.
That’s why she plans to use her platform in Parliament to use her teenage experiences, which also saw her spent a period homeless, as a catalyst for change.
Reflecting on what happened to her two decades ago, Ms Fleet, now a mother-of-four, said: “Today, 23 years later, I look back and I think, it wasn’t ok. That was an older man. I didn’t know we were having unprotected sex. I was a child and (it) is statutory rape. At the time this isn’t something that we were talking about. It’s not how I saw myself. I still have weekly nightmares about it.
“I have a huge privilege and advantage to be in Parliament and I’m thrilled to be here. But what happened in my childhood still has a massive impact on me, which is why I’m so excited about what the next Labour government is going to do.
“At 15, you definitely think you’re old enough to do all these things. I wanted to give my daughter the best life. But another thing that I can do now I’m in Parliament is I want to be a voice for all of those people, all of those women that have children in far from ideal circumstances.
“That’s why I wanted to talk about where my daughter came from and about what happened. It was really difficult for me to say to her, ‘I don’t think this was entirely consensual, and I think I might have been groomed, and I don’t think this is an appropriate relationship’. She took it really well. I Googled in advance f0r some tips, just a fact sheet or ‘how to deal with this’ and I found nothing.
“I found absolutely nothing. I found there were fact sheets about rape being used as a war crime. But there was nothing else. There’s no acknowledgement that it happens in the UK. And the more research I’ve done, I’ve found that there are over 3,000 conceptions every year from rape. But there’s no charity to support those women.
“There’s no help, advice, or support helpline that you can go to. No help on ‘how do I tell my child, that I love, that is everything to me, that this is where they came from?’”
Explaining why extra support in this area is so desperately needed she continued: “It is biologically very clear what happened to me because I was 15 years old, and he was older. I can prove where she came from, so that’s statutory rape. But there are so many women that this happens too who don’t speak about it.


“They dare not speak about it because they know they won’t be believed. And then even if by some miracle, we move to a society where women are believed, once you say this is your child, then that man can come and have access to that child.
“Even if you prove it’s rape, that man can have access to that child and help bring it up. And that’s absolutely terrifying. This is a perpetrator that has hurt the mother, who can then have access to the child.
“He told me to have an abortion at the time. He’s never met her. He never wanted anything to do with it. And he was very dismissive. He told me many times that he knew lots of ways that he wouldn’t have to pay a penny towards her, because all his friends had already evaded the CSA.”
Describing the relationship she now has with her daughter, Ms Fleet said: “So she’s 23 now and is the absolute love of my life. I am so proud of everything she is. I am thrilled. She makes me proud every single day. But at the time, when I was 15, I felt full of shame and guilt and responsibility. And all I was determined to do was make sure that she had a life that was as good as she would have had to any age parent. That was what I was determined to do.”
Outlining how she plans to use her role as an MP to push for change, she said: “I am a product of the last Labour government. It wasn’t a perfect Government, but it changed my life and it was transformational. When I was younger, things were tough and I had a Labour government.
“When we were homeless, the Labour government made sure that there was enough housing stock for us to be rehoused. And then when I had my first child at a very young age, I could send her to a Sure Start nursery. I could carry on, go to university with a first in the family scholarship.
“I could work in a minimum wage job. I could send my children because I’d got two by then, to a Sure Start nursery, and it just felt like I needed the support of the state. And my God, I got it.
“And, before I became an MP, I worked for a trade union and I was absolutely desperate to give back to my teachers. My teachers had invested in me. The Labour government made sure that my teachers had time to teach me and look after me, and I then saw that I was paying taxes and they weren’t being invested in young children like me or teachers. That’s why we needed a new Government?”
“On my estate, the estate where we were rehoused, I looked around and people struggled. And I see now there are people that I was close to when I was younger who are now suffering with addiction and poverty scars.
“What poverty has done to me has meant that I work and work and work and work and work. If somebody knocks on my door, I won’t answer it because I’m still scared it’s the bailiffs. That’s what happens to you in your childhood, it stays with you. In areas of Bolsover it’s absolutely heart-breaking.
“But I could either be angry about what’s happened over the past 14 years, sad and feel powerless, or I could come into Parliament and try and do something about it. I mean, what an honour.”

Continue Reading

News13 hours ago

Proposal to give firefighters a council tax discount to go to Cabinet

PEMBROKESHIRE on-call firefighters could enjoy a reduction in council tax “in recognition of the vital work performed” by them if...

News15 hours ago

Second home numbers in Pembrokeshire drop after council tax hike

THE NUMBER of second homes and self-catering holiday properties in Pembrokeshire has declined year-on-year, while those seeking council tax exceptions...

Community2 days ago

Rubbish mounting in Milford estate due to ‘recycling confusion’

RESIDENTS of the Mount Estate in Milford Haven are voicing their frustrations and concerns as the area has turned into...

Health3 days ago

No improvement in cancer waiting times despite Welsh Govt plan

TWO years after the Welsh Government unveiled its ambitious plan to overhaul cancer care and reduce waiting times, the latest...

News3 days ago

Former school devastated by fire revealed as £2m drug factory just weeks ago

A SIGNFICANT blaze that led to the collapse of the roof of a former primary school in west Wales occurred...

Crime4 days ago

Thai woman accused of killing son in appears in court

A THAI woman accused of killing her seven-year-old son has made a court appearance. Papaipit Linse, 43, of Upper Market...

Crime4 days ago

Police investigate early hours hit and run in Haverfordwest

POLICE in Haverfordwest are investigating a road traffic collision which occurred at about 2.00am in the morning on Wednesday (Jul...

Charity4 days ago

King’s speech highlights focus on economic growth and defence

ON WEDNESDAY (Jul 17), the King delivered his Speech, outlining the government’s priorities for the coming year. Central to the...

Crime4 days ago

Haverfordwest man denies sexual assaults on boys under nine

A 41-YEAR-OLD Haverfordwest man has appeared before magistrates charged with sexually assaulting a boy under 13 on at least 44...

News5 days ago

First Minister quits after less than four months in job

FIRST MINISTER Vaughan Gething has announced his resignation. Gething did not offer any apologies for the events of the past...

Popular This Week