'Fair and moral' budget to see increase in council tax
COUNCIL taxes in Swansea will rise in April after the Labour administration passed a budget described by its leader as "fair and moral".
Councillor David Phillips said the budget would tackle deprivation and improve opportunities for young people.
He said there was "no new money" or "financial trickery" in the long budget report before councillors.
And, taking aim at the Coalition Government's austerity programme, Mr Phillips said: "The financial future for this authority is bleak."
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The authority is set to spend just under £420 million next financial year, which begins on April 1, running departments such as education and social services. A smaller sum will go on building projects.
Most of the money the council spends on its day-to-day operations, including wages, comes from Westminster. Council tax payers contribute less than a quarter to this pot.
The Westminster grant is going up by 1.3 per cent, while from April 1 council tax will rise by 3.8 per cent, meaning a band D householder will pay £1,028 per year — plus a bit more due to fire and police precepts and, in some cases, community council precepts.
In 2013/14, extra spending will go towards the Dylan Thomas centenary celebrations (£500,000), waste disposal (£500,000), road safety measures at schools (£200,000), residents' parking schemes (£100,000), promoting Swansea City FC (£75,000), welfare rights advice (£60,000) and a "grow local" scheme (£50,000), among other measures.
And all of the authority's 72 councillors will be given £3,000 per year to spend on environmental improvements in their ward — three times more than previously.
But the biggest rises in the budget are due to increasing demands on social services. Providing long-term residential care for the elderly is set to cost the council £17.4 million in 2013/14, up from £14.3 million this financial year.
Providing "external" accommodation for children is set to cost £14.2 million, up from £11.1 million.
This year, social services has already overspent by £5.5 million, which will be plugged mainly by raiding a contingency fund. Education spending, meanwhile, will rise by £6 million.
Other areas will lose out next financial year. There is less money for sport and recreation, meals on wheels and property development, among others.
Swansea Liberal Democrats, who froze council tax last year for the first time, put forward a hotly-debated amendment to slash the 3.8 per cent council tax hike by half, and proposed allocating half of the council's £250,000 bus subsidy for free travel for under-16s during the school holidays.
The Conservative group proposed reducing the 3.8 per cent increase to 2.5 per cent by shooting down administration plans for a £7.45 per hour Living Wage, due to be implemented on April 1.
The amendments were defeated.
Lib Dem councillor Mary Jones pointed out that many private sector workers did not get the equivalent of a Living Wage, and said the one-off Dylan Thomas centenary events should be funded from the reserves pot.
Mr Phillips said Labour had received a mandate from the electorate last May and felt people would welcome the budget.
"This is a fair and moral budget which reflects our drive to support people and communities in particularly difficult financial times," he said.
Lib Dem councillor Mike Day wondered if the mandate had included a 3.8 per cent council tax rise, to which Mr Phillips replied that the Lib-Dem's pre-election freeze had not got them very far.
Councillor Rob Stewart, cabinet member for finance, said: "This Labour administration has clearly delivered on what it said it would last May — over 30 manifesto commitments in a 12-month period. There will be more to come.
"This council has direction, purpose, talent, ideas, and it has the right vision for Swansea."