Council tax hike a ‘bitter pill to swallow’ for residents
Nicholas Thomas, local democracy reporter
A plan to increase council tax bills by 8.5% in Newport has been branded a “bitter pill to swallow” for city residents.
Matthew Evans, the Conservative opposition leader in the council chamber, said the extra costs would mean a “not-so-happy new year for our residents”.
On Thursday (January 4), Newport City Council unveiled its draft budget proposals for next year, and said it would have to find nearly £5 million in savings to balance the books.
Raising council tax by 8.5% – the same rate as last year – would “still be one of the lowest rates” in Wales, it said.
Jane Mudd, who leads the local authority, said “the cost of providing services continues to go up in the same way that everyone’s cost of living has risen”.
“At the same time, more people are accessing those services, increasing demand,” she added. “We are also facing sizeable cuts to many of the grants we receive and are yet to fully understand the impact of these reductions, but it is certain to be substantial.”
“Shocked and dismayed”
Cllr Evans said he understood the need to raise council tax rates in line with inflation, but questioned why the 8.5% rate had been proposed when “inflation is going down at the moment”.
He said Newport residents would be “shocked and dismayed” by the size of the proposed rise, after the city council had been awarded the “highest [local government] settlement in Wales from the Welsh Government”.
“I’m not sure what message this sends to residents,” Cllr Evans added.
Liberal Democrat councillor Carmel Townsend called the proposed 8.5% council tax rise “really bad news for Newport’s residents”.
“I get many calls from people about the filthy streets, the decay and dereliction in the city,” she said. “Once again, Newport residents are being asked to cough up more, with very little – or anything – in return.
“Newport City Council is drifting. This is the third year of the council whacking up council tax, while at the same time receiving some of the highest funding increases in the whole of Wales.
“No wonder they now want to close the civic centre for two days a week, given the way they hide away from scrutiny.”
Bettws councillor Kevin Whitehead, one of the ward’s independent councillors, said he could “understand and appreciate the difficulties” of setting a balanced budget, but called the council tax rise a “bone of contention”.
Cllr Whitehead said the council should “ensure services such as the contact centre are actually functioning when people try to get through to it, cemeteries and grassed areas [are] properly maintained, and [make] a concerted effort to tackle the housing crisis”.
“The basics are vital when asking the public to accept some cuts to services and increases in bills,” he added.
The independent councillors representing Lliswerry, meanwhile, said they would oppose the 8.5% increase.
“Times are tough and once again people are being asked to pay more for fewer services,” they said, calling the council’s proposal “an above-inflation increase like that represents a couple of trips to a supermarket over a year for a family struggling on a low income”.
“We will be asking for more detail on some of the proposed cuts and the potential effect on people and services,” they added. “When we are clearer about the actual proposals, we will be presenting alternative recommendations if appropriate.”
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