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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 14:19 GMT
Battle to limit council tax rises
John Stevenson
BBC Wales political correspondent

Council tax letter (library)
Councils were advised to keep tax rises below 5%
Council tax bills will shortly be dropping through letterboxes across Wales. Should voters prepare themselves now for a nasty shock?

Welsh local authorities are in the middle of the cycle for setting the budget for the next financial year.

Each council predicts that council tax budgets will rise.

Denbighshire councillors have agreed a budget package, including efficiency savings, which will help the authority keep the band D increase to 3.5%.

This is opposed to a 5% rise suggested last month.

Flintshire council leaders are recommending a 3.7% rise -- the equivalent of an extra 28.57 on band D bills.

A crucial budget vote, which could decide how Bridgend council will be run in the future, will be held today.

Even town councils, who are at the bottom of the local authority food chain, are making higher than expected claims for a share of the financial cake .

Ruthin town council in Denbighshire, for instance, recently voted for a 7% rise in its precept (its share of the council tax bill).

All across Wales, there have been predictions of hefty council tax bills despite a warning from the assembly local government minister, Sue Essex, late last year, that any rises should not be higher than 5%.

Sue Essex announced an average increase of 4.4% to local authorities at the end of 2006

There have been predictions that the council tax in Blaenau Gwent will rise by 5%; in Powys between 3.5% and 3.95%. The leader of Ynys Mon Council has threatened a 13% rise and nearby Gwynedd Council don't rule out a 9% rise. Monmouth is talking about a rise of 4.85% on council tax bills

Cheryl Green, Bridgend council leader and council tax bill montage
Too early to talk about defeat, said Bridgend council's leader

Bridgend council is an example.

Council leader Cheryl Green told BBC Wales that if the coalition administration which currently runs Bridgend, fails to get its budget for the next financial year through later this afternoon, a vote of confidence could eventually be called.

Councillor Green said that it was much to early to talk about defeat. Much would depend, she said, on which aspect of the proposed budget was lost.

It would also depend on whether not another budget was proposed. In the event of a defeat, though, it would then be for the authority's executive to decide on the next step

Bridgend received a rise of 5.5% - the best council settlement in percentage terms in Wales

Bridgend council acknowledge that they received a better than average increase in funding from the Welsh Assembly Government. But they say that the county's funding per head at 1,232 is still below the Welsh average of 1,250.

A spokesperson for the council's ruling "rainbow" alliance has told BBC Wales that if the average funding per head for Wales was applied to Bridgend, the council would have had a further 2.8m to spend in this year's council settlement from the assembly government.

'Very difficult'

The intention, he said, will be to keep council tax rises low requiring even more efficiencies and changes to the way the council works

When the authority approved its draft budget earlier this year, the cabinet agreed that it would re-invest efficiency savings into it's frontline services.

Bridgend, like Sue Essex, say that the only way to tackle the serious issues which councils face, is to redirect spending.

Assembly finance minister Ms Essex has already called for efficiency savings of one per cent across all local authority budgets and that those savings should be ploughed back into services.

Councillor Bob Burns, Bridgend cabinet member for resources told BBC Wales:

"Our commitment to keep a council tax rise to around inflation and not to use our reserves has been kept - we will now see what the consultation process reveals.

"The fiscal position for 2007/08 is very difficult but 2008/09 will be even more difficult.

In order to finance investment in services, the cabinet proposes to introduce a number of measures including modernising services and introducing more efficient ways of working. The resulting savings will amount to 5.5m over three years (2.6m in 2007/08)."


SEE ALSO
Union talks over council job cuts
07 Feb 07 |  Mid Wales
Homeowners 'must check tax band'
25 Jan 07 |  Business
Council warns of tax bill rise
19 Dec 06 |  North West Wales

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