Caerphilly County Councillors have approved a series of budget proposals for the forthcoming year at a council meeting this evening, which will see savings across the council for 2014/15 in excess of £14.2 million pounds.
Councillors also approved plans for a 3.9% increase in Council Tax, which in monetary terms equates to a 69 pence per week increase for a Band D property in Caerphilly county borough.
Members also supported plans to further increase the Living Wage by an additional 20 pence per hour, which will ensure that thousands of the council?s lowest paid staff earn at least £7.65 an hour, an increase of 20 pence from £7.45 as currently.
Plaid Cymru says it'll work with the Welsh Government to 'take action' on increasing the amount of affordable housing available. The party is calling for one step to be giving councils the right to double council tax on second homes. Local Government spokesman Rhodri Glyn Thomas said:
The recently finished consultation on council tax for second homes offers a positive way forward. As a matter of social justice and the redistribution of wealth, those who can afford to own multiple properties may be required to make more of a contribution, in order to help younger people in particular get on the property ladder. We also then need to look at the forthcoming powers over stamp duty.
There is a clear crisis in local government finance at present and there should be no stone left unturned when it comes to identifying new sources of revenue to help councils deliver their goals. The way forward is for the Welsh Government to make a positive statement on council tax for long-term empty properties and second homes, so that we add a clear rural dimension to the Government’s existing work on affordable housing.
Plaid Cymru has a strong interest in securing social justice in rural Wales, so this is something where we want to offer positive solutions rather than just identifying the problem.
– Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, Plaid Cymru
He estimates that doubling council tax in Gwynedd, for instance, would raise £5m to be spent on affordable housing. He rejected my suggestion that the amount would shrink over time, saying that second-home owners are unlikely to sell up simply because of council tax.
He also said he'll be holding talks with Housing and Regeneration Minister Carl Sargeant to see if the two parties can work together to increase affordable housing. I asked him when they'd take place but he would only say 'they're about to happen.'
The organisation that represents councils in Wales says that council tax will rise by an average of 2.9% in the coming year. The WLGA says this will mean that households in Wales will pay over £200 less on average than those in England. The increase will work out on average at £27 over a year.
This prediction is based on a survey of councils across Wales, although not all councils have yet finalised their budgets.
In England council tax is expected to rise by an average of 1.1% according to the the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.
Welsh councils are seeking to maintain their efforts to keep council tax rates down as low as possible, but it is inevitable that bills will rise given the current economic circumstances. Local government is experiencing unprecedented financial pressures due to the poor economic climate, real terms cuts to grant funding and UK Government reform of the Welfare state. Our focus is on getting the balance right for our citizens.
Council tax benefit regulations being rushed through the Senedd today mean 70% of claimants will have to pay some council tax for the first time, AMs have been told. They've been specially recalled from their Christmas recess for today's debate after the Welsh government rewrote the regulations.
The first draft was blocked by the opposition when AMs were given no time to consider the proposals before voting on them. The Welsh Government said it was because the Treasury didn't tell them how much funding there would be for the benefit until late on the last day of the Assembly autumn term.
Today David Melding, who chaired the committee that examined the revised regulations, said they now include a "sunset clause" that means there will have to be another debate next year. He added that with most claimants now paying tax, it will cost more to collect -and probably more unpaid bills.