Council tax will increase by 2.75% in Neath Port Talbot from April.
Members voted in favour of the increase when approving the authority’s budget for 2021-22 during a meeting held on Tuesday, March 9.
The council tax increase will cost residents living in Band D properties an extra £44.43, totalling £1,660.02 per year. Around 80% of Neath Port Talbot residents pay council tax fees below the Band C amount of £1,475.57.
Neath Port Talbot’s Plaid Cymru group advocated a freeze on council tax rates for 2021-22.
“We are always told that reserves are needed for a rainy day,” said councillor Alun Llewelyn, Plaid group leader.
“Well it’s been metaphorically tipping down all year for our towns, villages, and communities. Now is the time. We need to help the people.”
The 2021-22 budget includes no cuts to services and plans to use £3.1m of council reserves to cover a funding shortfall.
The council’s net budget for 2021-22 is £316.3m while its gross budget and investment in services totals £459.9m.
The Welsh Government settlement for 2021-22 is £236.7m; an increase of 4.2% from last year, which is above the average increase in Wales of 3.8%.
The budget for 2021-22 (including the council tax increase) was approved as follows:
For – 39
Against – 17
Abstentions – three
Council tax, which funds 25% of the council’s net expenditure, is expected to bring in around £80m next year.
The local authority gets the remaining 75% of its funding from the Welsh Government.
Cabinet member for finance Carol Clement-Williams said the increase of 2.75% is the second-lowest increase compared with other Welsh local authorities. She also said most households in Neath Port Talbot would pay less than an extra £40 annually.
Cllr Llewelyn said the proposed council tax increase would still mean Neath Port Talbot has the third-highest rates in Wales.
He also said responses in the public consultation on the council’s budget show a “palpable sense of unfairness” that council tax levels in NPT are higher than neighbouring authorities.
The 2021-22 budget contains an extra £9m investment in frontline services, a 3.5% increase in funding for schools, more than £2m of investment in social services, and £1.6m for day-to-day services. Around £80m will be spent on capital projects.
The Plaid group wanted to freeze council tax levels with no cuts to services and use an extra £2.14m from reserves to replace the funding gap.
Director of finance Hywel Jenkins said the council’s predicted reserves balance by April 2021 is £19.8m. “Covid isn’t over. We do need to have some money set aside for emergencies,” he said.
The council has an underspend of £1.9m for 2020-21 and is proposing to add this sum to its reserves.
Cllr Clement-Williams said the underspend is the result of “forensic financial management” and a “truly remarkable team effort”.
Independent councillor Steve Hunt said he supported the 2.75% increase on council tax rates and Plaid’s request for a freeze is “not realistic without damaging frontline services”.
He also offered “sincere condolences” to all those who have died from Covid-19. “The physical and mental scars will remain with us for decades to come.”
Plaid Cymru councillor Nigel Hunt said it is “unacceptable” that constituents in Neath Port Talbot pay an extra 25% in council tax compared with residents in Pembrokeshire.
“We’ve been stashing a lot in general reserves,” said Cllr Hunt, who represents Aberavon.
He said freezing council tax would be “very sustainable” and he does not believe it is “ethical” that the authority is proposing a council tax increase of 2.75% “squirrelling away millions of pounds” in reserves.
Council taxpayers “deserve better value for money,” he added.
Cllr Clement-Williams said neighbouring authorities like Swansea Council, with lower balances of general reserves, are increasing council tax at a higher rate than Neath Port Talbot Council.
“Bringing council tax down to a level that is sustainable for our residents is our main goal,” she added.
“I will continue to keep fighting for fairer funding across Wales…. 80% of our residents don’t pay for Band D.
“Taking reserves on their own is not comparable… you have to take into account the demand the council has.
“We have areas of the lowest deprivation in Wales, which means there is a higher call on our services.”
Mr Jenkins said there are 64,000 households in NPT and the proposed budget includes an extra £500,000 for council tax support.
The council has paid more than £40m in grants to local businesses during the pandemic, according to Cllr Clement-Williams.
The authority has also given £3.5m to parents for free school meals, helping 5,000 children.