Denbighshire County Council’s Budget for 2024/25 was passed last week despite strong opposition from Conservative and Independent Councillors.
Following a two-and-a-half-hour debate in the council chamber in Ruthin on Tuesday morning, 17 councillors voted against the budget and three abstained, which meant it was passed by a majority of just seven votes.
Leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Hugh Irving, supported by other members of the group, including Cllrs Justine Evans, Brian Jones, Ann Davies, James Elson and Terry Mendies, challenged the principle of the budget, which depends on a substantial increase of 9.3% in Council Tax, as well as swingeing cuts to frontline services, including libraries, and a contribution from dwindling reserves, which look likely to be exhausted throughout the coming year.
Cllr Irving told the meeting that he is “extremely concerned that this budget will use up the Council’s remaining usable reserves", and said "whilst it may provide some short term relief it does not address oncoming threats”.
He proposed an alternative strategy “built on concentrating expenditure on statutory and front line services, with all other expenditure including climate change, green issues, and active travel being subject to review by the Head of Finance and only to be proceeded with when funds permit.”
When the budget went to the vote, with the help of Plaid Cymru and Green Party members, the Labour-led administration had a majority of just seven votes.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Irving said:
“It is incredibly concerning that this budget has been passed and that our residents will now be faced with a council tax hike of a staggering 9.3%, whilst seeing cuts to the services the council provides.
“Whilst we appreciate the financial challenges facing Denbighshire Council Council, the burden should not be placed on hardworking people who are already stretched as a result of global pressures.
“If the Welsh Government were to address its unfair funding formula for local authorities in Wales, we would not be in this position.”
Vale of Clwyd MP Dr James Davies is also disappointed that such a large council tax rise has been approved.
“It is very frustrating that Labour and Plaid Cymru politicians are happy to mislead the general public by blaming this council tax rise and cuts to services on the UK Government. The truth of the matter is that for every £1 spent in England, £1.20 is passed to the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government’s budget is at virtually the highest level in real terms that it has ever been. It is not ring fenced, so is spent as the Labour Welsh Government choose to spend it.
“We must not forget that the Welsh Government handed £155 million back to the Treasury as a result of an underspend in 2020-21; spent £294,600 renaming the Senedd during a pandemic; pumped some £200m into the failing Cardiff Airport; have spent £33m and rising on the unwanted 20mph speed limit; spend millions on international offices and other non-devolved issues; and are now pushing to increase the number of politicians by 36, at a cost of around £120m. The list of wasteful spending goes on and on and demonstrates that Labour can’t be trusted with the public purse.
“There is no ‘magic money tree’ but councils in England are on average receiving a cash terms 7.5% increase to their budgets and are not permitted to raise council tax above 5% without holding a local referendum. The Welsh Government has awarded Denbighshire County Council just a 3.6% increase. Where has the rest of the money gone?
“Instead of throwing money at vanity projects, the Welsh Government should instead be properly funding local government, schools and the NHS.
“While the Conservative Government nationally is cutting National Insurance contributions, putting more money in the pockets of residents, the Labour-led Welsh Government are continuing to increase tax, taking more of their hard earned money.
"The Leader of Denbighshire County Council and his Cabinet need to end the blame game and start being truthful and accountable for the decisions they are making.”
Since Tuesday, James has received a number of complaints from residents who are concerned about paying the increased council tax.
In an email to the MP, Andrew Sheridan of Rhyl, said:
"This is a totally unfair and unjust amount at a time when families are near breaking point with the on going cost of living crisis. I myself earn not much more than the minimum wage and this rise would push my monthly payments to about £265 per month for a modest size 3 bed house. A 3 or 4% rise would be a fair outcome."
Cllr Justine Evans added:
"I am sure there will be much more of a backlash when council tax bills arrive with residents in a few weeks’ time, and it will be elected members who will face the challenge – even those who voted against it.
"With taxpayers seeing money being wasted by Denbighshire County Council through the spiralling costs of the new recycling model, which residents don't want, the closure of Rhyl Seaquarium, and spending on projects before they have even been granted planning permission, as was the case at Maes Emlyn in Rhyl, it will be impossible for councillors to justify this budget and the hike in council tax to them."