Senior Swansea councillors agree proposals for £25m of savings next year
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Savings of £25m will need to be made by Swansea Council next year – but it could have been a lot worse, the authority’s director of finance said.
Ben Smith told a cabinet meeting that a better-than-expected financial settlement from the Welsh Government had given the council “more wriggle room”.
However, he warned that the spending power of councils everywhere would continue to be eroded unless inflation came down.
Cabinet approved a set of budget proposals for 2023-24, which will now go out for public consultation before final decisions are made on March 2.
The biggest pressures facing the council are energy and wage inflation, and the Labour administration plans to use £15m set aside for post-Covid recovery projects for an energy fund for schools, care homes, leisure centres and warm hubs.
Council leader Rob Stewart said this was because the UK Government wasn’t providing councils with extra energy funding, which he felt was “immoral”.
Cllr Stewart said the £15m energy fund could have been paid for by council taxpayers, but it would have meant a 15% council tax rise.
“We were not prepared to accept that,” he said.
As things stand, council tax bills are expected to go up by about4%.
Schools will get a 5.6% increase in funding – worth £10m – while social services will also get more, although the exact figure isn’t clear yet.
Schools, though, will be expected to make £3m savings in 2023-24, reducing an overall £25m spending shortfall to £22m. The council’s other departments will fill the financial black hole with various savings and revenue-raising measures.
Cllr Stewart said the coming financial year will be the first time that local authorities in Wales are given a higher increase in funding than the NHS. He thanked Welsh ministers for responding to councils’ concerns.
He said it meant a reduction of at-risk council jobs from “potentially hundreds” to 68, although steps will be taken to minimise any compulsory redundancies.
Cllr Robert Smith, who has the education portfolio, also said the financial situation was better than had been expected a matter of days ago, but added: “We are not in a land of milk and honey.”
Finance director Mr Smith said the expected 400% hike in council energy costs had now reduced slightly to “300 and something per cent”, and that the overall savings requirement was a “massive improvement” on what it could have been.
Inflation in the UK hit 11.1% in October, dropping to 10.7% in November. It means everyone is spending more just to stand still.
Mr Smith said: “The long-term outlook does still not look particularly attractive.”
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