A report by the Wales Audit Office says councils should explore more opportunities to work together as they look to cut costs.
The Meeting the Financial Challenges Facing Local Government in Wales paper recommends they work with other public services to reduce costs and deliver improved outcomes for citizens. The Welsh Local Government Association said it welcomed the report.
"Local government in Wales has already had to manage significant cuts to its overall budget and, as this report outlines, it has done so effectively. A poor economic climate and continued UK austerity measures mean that the financial challenges faced by local councils in Wales are huge. It is certainly no surprise that some 'cracks' are beginning to show, as local councils are having to 'balance the books' while also attempting to protect the wide range of public services that they have traditionally offered to their local communities.
"The current funding framework needs to be improved so that finance practitioners have sensible funding assumptions beyond the short sighted annualised budget announcements that they currently receive."
– Spokesperson, Welsh Local Government Association
But there was some criticism for the report.
"A major gap in this report is that it says very little about the dynamics between difficult local political choices and selling these to the electorate who understandably do not want to see any diminution in local services."
– Spokesperson, Welsh Local Government Association
Steve Thomas, Chief Executive of the Welsh Local Government Association, says the IFS report into public finances shows that the next decade will mean unprecedented change in local government services.
Figures obtained by the False Economy campaign reveal across Britain over 50,000 council housing tenants have fallen behind on their rent since the reform was introduced in April – nearly a third of all tenants affected by the tax in the 114 local authorities that provided data.
However in some parts of Wales, the proportion of council housing tenants in arrears has been far higher.
In Wrexham and Anglesey, almost half of all council house tenants (44%) affected by the bedroom tax have been pushed into arrears since April.
In Swansea, 38% of tenants in the city affected by the tax have fallen behind on their rent and in Cardiff, 616 families have experienced difficulties.
Wales TUC has welcomed the Welsh Government’s Smaller Properties Programme announced in August which provided £20 million in funding to help with the provision of smaller affordable homes.
Reacting to the figures Wales TUC National Officer, Julie Cook said,
“Today’s depressing news provides further proof that the Bedroom Tax is pushing families into complete despair. Disabled people who need space for their carers and families, and who have nowhere else to move, are being put at risk of debt and homelessness by the tax."
A spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association, which represents local councils, said any attempts to change the way Chief Executives and other senior officers are paid could lead to employment tribunals and put off talented staff taking up key roles in Wales.
In the last analysis the legality of this proposal could be subject to judicial challenge and we would expect local government to be fully consulted and involved in any proposals which may impact on remuneration in the sector. The main question must be, has the National Assembly fully considered the wider implications of this proposal in terms of equal pay and the potential ramifications it might have on all council employees in Wales?
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.
The Welsh Local Government Association says councils should not lose control of schools. The WLGA has responded to the review announced by the Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, saying that although there are major issues, LEAs are functioning 'to an optimum level' to serve pupils' interests.
The WLGA is vehemently opposed to any proposal that suggests education should be taken out of local authority control. This will fundamentally damage the principle of local democratic control and accountability, and undermine the ability of local communities to shape the educational future of young people.
The WLGA is already working closely and positively with the Education Minister, who has met the 22 leaders on numerous occasions and only last week addressed the 22 Cabinet Members for Education across Wales. The Association has fully agreed with the major elements of the Ministers 20 action points and has indeed met many of its obligations including the delegation of 80% funding to schools, the banding of schools and the establishment of four School Improvement Consortia.
– Cllr Bob Wellington, Welsh Local Government Association