The Leader presented to colleagues the Council Tax report for 2022/23. It was an integral part of the Council’s budget for 2022/23 which required the increase indicated in February Cabinet meeting, which was 2.4%.
As the ‘Administration’, the Cabinet made decisions on the allocation of resources and full Council then made the final decision on the council tax level only. Council this evening was to agree the Council Tax for 2022/23 and via this, the Council’s total net budget for that year too.
The proposed budget built on this year’s current budget and how the Council invested our underspend from the 2020/21 financial year. It was also mindful, and demonstrated synergy with the support that Welsh Government gave to businesses and communities over the last two years.
A number of key priority areas would receive significant investment, as we recovered from the last two years. They included the following areas of activity:
· Over £8m in schools and over £6.5m in social care; with a focus on prevention and early intervention services. Support for communities, families and young people meant this investment protected and enhanced the ability to do this in a timely fashion. The budget also provided for investment in housing and homelessness services. This would enable the continuity of the good work carried out to support the vulnerable citizens who needed this support with housing and provide capacity to move towards the ambition of net zero carbon.
· Further support for the city centre, investing almost half a million pounds over the next two years to promote the city, encourage tourism, provide capacity to co-ordinate the Council’s and its partners’ work within the centre and improve the environment in and around the city with more cleansing capacity.
· Green spaces, providing greater levels of investment. The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on people’s lives. Being outdoors and spending time in green space was shown to be highly beneficial to both mental and physical wellbeing. It was the Cabinet’s intention that this investment in parks and outdoor spaces would encourage residents and families to connect further with the natural environment and within their local communities.
Cabinet also considered the alignment of the permanent budgets set out within this report with one off funding available from this year’s underspend, and how this could be used to further enhance the Cabinet’s offering.
· In addition to the permanent funding in the city’s parks and open spaces a further £2.5m one off investment in these areas would be funded from the revenue underspend at the end of the year. This would improve access in cemeteries and provide capacity to invest in play areas across the city. This investment would be taken in conjunction with the local residents who used these spaces, prioritising the things that mattered most to our residents.
· In addition, an investment of nearly £1m to support existing retail, leisure and hospitality businesses in the city centre as well as encouraging more businesses to take up our empty premises. This would provide support to businesses recovering from the last two years as well as offering support to new businesses coming into the city centre.
The budget built on last year’s programme where we invested in our businesses and communities - with more investment in business, the city centre and in its green spaces. This also aligned with and built upon activity prioritised by Welsh Government
The Leader turned to the recommended Council Tax increase for 2022/23. February Cabinet meeting recommended a reduced 2.4% increase. Before a decision was made on the level of Council Tax proposed the Leader made the following points:
· The percentage increase was used as the focus for comparison with relative increases in other Local Authority areas. This budget however, and the absolute values, the monetary values were what mattered. Newport continued to have one of the lowest Council Tax increases in Wales and the monetary values the percentage increase generated was less than the value it would generate in nearly all other Councils in Wales.
The Leader went on to explain, the monetary value 2.4% generated, equated to £2.48 a month for a Band D property; to generate an equivalent amount, almost two thirds of Welsh Councils would need to increase council tax by only 2.1% and less. This was important to understand.
· Most properties in Newport were band A to C and a 2.4% increase would increase monthly bills by £1.66, £1.93, and £2.21 respectively. This was a modest increase and the Leader was pleased that Cabinet was able to deliver these very modest increases, but the total monetary value the increase generated was needed for the budget and would be invested carefully in the areas of our services which supported families and the development of the city.
· Newport’s tax level was one of the lowest in Wales and the UK for comparable Councils and a 2.4% recommended increase will maintain that. The rate was not dissimilar to other increases across Wales.
· For the last 12 years Newport’s position was consistent and remained in the position of second or third of the lowest Council Tax levels in Wales. A substantial package of savings and efficiencies were implemented over the last five to 10 years to ensure this was achieved.
· Whilst there continued to be a number of financial pressures over the medium term the Leader was very pleased that we managed to respond to the concerns raised by our residents and reduce the council tax increases accordingly.
The Leader commended the budget and the modest level of Council Tax increase required and asked for colleagues to support this. The Leader moved the recommended budget proposals as set out in the report, which was duly seconded. No amended budget proposals were moved.
Comments from Councillors:
§ Councillor M Evans advised that the Conservative Group accepted the budget put before Council.
§ Councillor Whitehead added that it was a good budget and was pleased to see that it included homeless support, school support as well as a boost to the city. Councillor Whitehead therefore supported the budget overall.
§ Councillor Davies mentioned that as Cabinet Member for Education, she welcomed the budget and completely supported the 2.4% Council Tax rise, which recognised the residents increased cost of living. Councillor Davies also reminded residents that council tax reduction was available.
· Councillor Townsend gave the following statement:
The Liberal Democrats on Newport Council recognise the positive news in the budget for schools and social services, and are pleased to support this part of the budget entirely;
In terms of the budget as a whole, our amendment seeks to meet additional resident priorities that are not met in the budget elsewhere:
We are proposing:
o An immediate 5.1% solidarity cut to councillor income at all levels – voluntary as individuals if we cannot do this as a Council, generating £51,000 that we can use to meet resident priorities;
o An allocation of the £800,000 underspend to fund a second waste management site, which should come from the proposed underspend this year,– given the proposed scale of savings from having a second centre, of £4.3m by the council’s own calculation, this should pay for itself quickly;
o An allocation of £400,000 to establish CCTV in hotspot areas, with an additional £100,000 to support residents in paying for installation of their own equipment – this would come from the £2 million in savings planned for this year;
o An allocation of up to £50,000 for legal advice and support on how to extricate ourselves from the disastrous arrangement wherein this Labour Council are paying almost £1m a year to subsidise commercial failure in Friar’s Walk – again, this would come from the £2m in savings for this year;
o The contingency funds would reduce from £2m to £1.45m, which is only a cautious divergence from the proposed council budget, and would therefore have no impact on Council tax.
The Monitoring Officer clarified that this was not a proposed amendment to the motion, as Councillor Townsend was not proposing any change to the Council tax rate or the base budget. These were simply comments and a request that Cabinet consider these matters when deciding how the base budget should be spent.
The Mayor thanked Councillor Townsend for her statement.
§ Councillor Hourahine added that this was a beneficial budget to council tax payers of Newport and therefore commended the budget.
§ Councillor J Watkins referred to the school budget and felt that some schools were in the red and improvement on the learning environment was required, in particular Caerleon Comprehensive.
§ Councillor Wilcox supported the budget, saying that it was an excellent example of what could be done with money. Councillor Wilcox commended the Leader on her budget and the way the money was spent on the people of Newport.
§ Councillor Routley also supported the budget.
§ Deputy Leader agreed that the outcome of the budget meant that residents of Newport had been listened to during the consultation process.
§ The Leader summed up by saying that she had taken into consideration comments of colleagues and welcomed their supportive comments. Housing and homelessness budget was £15M likewise, the investment in CCTV £700,000 as mentioned in the report. Investment in education was over and above inflation and the previous report highlighted £75M capital expenditure going into Band B programme match funded by WG. This included Bassaleg and Caerleon School. This overall budget was because of the settlement from WG.
The budget motion was put to the vote and duly carried.
Council agreed to the following
Revenue budget and council tax 22/23 (section 2-8)
1 To note that an extensive consultation exercise was completed on the 2022/23 budget proposals. Cabinet took this into account in recommending final details of their budget
2 To note the Head of Finance’s recommendations that minimum General Fund balances be maintained at a level of at least £6.5million, the confirmation of the robustness of the overall budget underlying the proposals, subject to the key issues highlighted in section 7. Also, to note the potential use the general reserves and the wider package of revenue budget provision and uncommitted reserves, as set out in section 7 to provide mitigation for the uncertainly surrounding the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
3 To approve a council tax increase for Newport City Council of 2.4%, a Band D tax of £1,272.01; and resulting overall revenue budget shown in appendix 1
4 To approve the formal council tax resolution, included in appendix 3 which incorporated The Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent and Community Council precepts
Medium term financial plan (section 5)
5 To note the MTFP and the uncertainty facing Local Government over the medium term around the progress of the pandemic, economic challenges, increasing demand within service areas and Brexit
6 To note Cabinet’s approval of theimplementation of the three-year plan, including all budget proposals, as summarised within the medium-term financial plan (appendix 4). Considering point 5 above it should be noted that financial projections was subject to on-going review and updating.
To note and approve the councils reserves strategy and invest to save protocol. Estimated reserve balances as of 31 March as set out in appendix 5a of the report.