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Claims councillors are being strong-armed into backing council tax hike

05 Mar 2024 4 minute read
Councillor Mike Stoddart said there had been an attempt to ‘strong-arm’ Pembrokeshire councillors into backing the proposed 16.3 per cent council tax hike.

Bruce Sinclair, local democracy reporter

A campaign group has claimed that councillors are being pressurised into backing a record council tax increase of more than 16 per cent

Council tax rates in Pembrokeshire will rise by more than 16 per cent, adding nearly £220 to the average bill, if a recommendation before councillors is backed later this week.

Low tax pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance has been targeting the county in recent days, delivering leaflets and speaking to residents about the proposed increase.

It has also been calling on residents in Pembrokeshire to write to the leader of the council, Cllr David Simpson, expressing their opposition to the proposals.


The Taxpayers’ alliance says that, in an email sent to all councillors from the S151 officer (equivalent to a chief financial officer) and the monitoring officer, councillors have been told that if they vote against the budget, “it would be unlawful” and that “wilfully or recklessly failing to set a budget would be contrary to the principles of public life set out in the constitution – particularly the principle of stewardship, and would undoubtedly bring the council into disrepute; which is a code of conduct issue.”

It says the email also said: “It is important that every member is absolutely clear that no amendments which affect the level of council tax increase for 2024-25 will be accepted at council on March 7.”

One of those expressing concern about the warning was veteran independent county councillor, and ‘Old Grumpy’ blogger, Councillor Mike Stoddart.

Milford Hakin councillor Mike Stoddart said: “Trying to strong-arm elected members into approving this massive council tax increase against their better judgement was likely to be counterproductive.

“For myself, I will do what I think is right by my constituents, and no amount of threats will divert me from that path.”

Elliot Keck, head of campaigns at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is deeply concerning to see councillors receive such intense pressure from council officials., who do not have to answer to voters.

“The council is proposing a record-breaking tax hike which will deal a devastating blow to household finances.

“Councillors should feel free to vote according to what they think is right.”

Funding gap

Pembrokeshire is currently facing a projected funding gap of £31.9m, partly due to a lower-than-expected Provisional Local Government Settlement.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance claims the proposed increase would be the largest in England and Wales in more than a decade, and urged councillors to “show some backbone, stand up for their residents and say no to this ruinous tax hike”.

Pembrokeshire Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack said: “For 2024-25, Pembrokeshire County Council is facing additional demand pressures in statutory services (adult and children’s social care, homelessness and education). This means we need an extra £17m to provide these services next year – this alone is equivalent to an increase of over 26 per cent on council tax. Additionally, we face inflationary pressures of £22.8m.

“Our funding gap, after the AEF money we’ll receive from Welsh Government, is £31.9m.

“We are legally required to balance our budget – to match the amount of money coming in against what we spend to provide services. We are planning to make savings on our spending of £12.2m, as well as utilising some council tax premiums to enhance the sustainability of our communities.

“This has allowed us to limit the council tax rise to 16.31 per cent. This weighs up the need to limit council tax rises on residents against the need to preserve services used by many of the most vulnerable people in the county.

“The demand pressures, particularly in social care, are affecting all councils in Wales, but particularly Pembrokeshire, since we have had the lowest council tax in Wales for decades.

“Based on current information, we expect Pembrokeshire to still have one of the lowest council tax levels – probably 18th out of the 22 Welsh local authorities.”

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