The announcement of the provisional settlement for local government today is a deeply disappointing outcome for councils across Wales with the gravest implications for local services.
In particular, councils have issued a warning to Welsh Government of the severe consequences for school budgets due to the failure of this outcome to meet a massive range of wage, pension and demographic pressures. At the most optimistic level, this amounts to a £57m gap which equates to a loss of 1,300 teachers or 2,400 teaching assistants or a combination of both. Yet again, the exhausted narrative of ‘additional’ and ‘extra’ funding in Welsh Government press releases needs to be treated with scepticism. Today's settlement simply does not provide enough resources to fund local services, particularly when compared to areas which the Welsh Government directly control, like the NHS. To be first in the queue for resources from Westminster which may not materialise because of Brexit is cold comfort to local government.
The views of the WLGA’s political groups below summarise the feelings of the 22 local authorities.
Councillor Anthony Hunt (Torfaen), WLGA Finance Spokesperson and Labour Group said:
“It is with deep regret that we have received today’s provisional settlement. I know my colleagues in Welsh Government have had tough decisions to make thanks to austerity. But I fear that the wrong decisions have been taken in this budget.”
“Councils in Wales provide vital local services. We are at the forefront of the preventative and early intervention agenda that forms an important part of the Welsh Government’s own Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. Yet looking at the budget, the funding of those services appears not to be a priority.”
“As well as having to deal with cuts upon cuts, the build-up of pressures in areas such as looked after children and services for older or vulnerable people are completely outstripping our existing resources. To cut these services further makes no sense; doing so will only place more pressure on other public services including the NHS.”
“As Labour leaders in Wales, we call on the Welsh Government to enter into immediate dialogue with councils to see how we can work together to avert what will otherwise be a deepening crisis in the funding of our children’s schools, social care for vulnerable people and the other vital services that people value and rely on. As councils, we have tightly managed our budget throughout austerity, making efficiency savings year after year. But, after eight years of deep cuts, we are fast reaching breaking point for local services.”
Councillor Peter Fox (Monmouthshire), WLGA Conservative Group Leader said:
“After eight years of cuts where budgets have fallen by a quarter, Welsh Government had a real opportunity to end austerity in Wales. With £370m new monies arriving from Westminster, an imaginative approach to funding preventative services to keep people out of hospitals was needed. Instead, the Welsh Government has given the NHS a 7% increase and cut council budgets for the eighth year in succession.”
“In glossy strategies such as ‘Prosperity for All’ and ‘Healthier Wales’, the Welsh Government claim that social care is one of their top priorities; there is no evidence to support this. Indeed, of the £370m available, social care will only receive £30m - short on pound notes but weighted down in bureaucracy.”
“In short, lots of fine words but no matching funding commitment. This budget is full of tired and outdated thinking. Ironically, Welsh Government are giving us more money to pay for tarmac when local services have ‘run out of road’.”
Councillor Emlyn Dole (Carmarthenshire), WLGA Plaid Cymru Group Leader said:
“For councils across Wales, it is difficult to stress the sense of disbelief at today’s provisional settlement. The Welsh Government has promised more powers and more flexibilities to councils over the past two years but have again siphoned off money for core services into a range of specific grants to spend on their pet projects.
“In addition, it appears that local government has been using the wrong tactics over the recent period: rather than carefully balancing our budgets and delivering huge cuts, perhaps we should have run huge deficits, like the NHS, who are constantly bailed out and rewarded.”
“With the money we have available, we cannot protect core services - and this tragically means cuts to schools and social services. We are concerned that teachers’ jobs will go and front-line services will be cut. This budget may hit the Welsh Government target of putting more money into hospitals but completely misses the point that investment in prevention is the way forward.”
Councillor Hugh Evans (Denbighshire), WLGA Independent Group Leader said:
“Having seen today’s budget announcement, I want to place on record a clear warning. There is barely a week goes by when AMs, MPs and others call on my council for extra ‘investment’ in one service or another. Our budget gap before any council tax rise is £11.5m. None of these worthy requests ever identify where this money is to come from, or what we should cut to pay for them. I say publicly today that, if you vote for this budget in the National Assembly, you must now accept full responsibility for what will be the deep cuts to services which are treasured by our communities.
“This is not just about social care; it means less food inspections, cuts to disabled facility grants, the closure of family centres, less grass cutting, the end of youth services and much more.”
“Councils have crossed the Rubicon with this budget and we now face choices on core services that, as the elected leader of Denbighshire, I never imagined we would have to make.”
“Even at this eleventh hour, the Welsh Government should reconsider these decisions and come forward with a new budget which is more equitable and far less damaging to our communities. I will be asking all our elected Assembly members to work harder on our behalf and challenge Cardiff Bay to support public services for the whole of Wales”