Welsh Conservatives challenged to ‘public debate’ on council cuts
The Welsh Conservatives have been challenged to a “public debate” on cuts to local authorities after a social media post by the party was branded “clueless and financially illiterate” by a council leader.
Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) council leader Andrew Morgan called out the Tories on X, formerly Twitter, after the party shared a BBC story about the likelihood of council job loses as the local authority struggles to balance its books.
Cllr Morgan told Politics Wales on Sunday (January 14) that reduced services and a 35-40% council tax hike would be needed in order to avoid implementing cuts.
In an X post on Monday (January 15) the Welsh Conservatives shared a screen grab of an article about the council leader’s interview and accused RCT Council of “squirrelling away” public money whilst “pleading poverty”.
The post read: “RCT Council is sitting on £270m in usable reserves!!! This money must be used BEFORE there is talk of council tax rises, job losses or cuts to services. Same old Labour squirreling away your money whilst pleading poverty.”
Cllr Morgan hit back at the Welsh Conservatives challenging the party to a public debate on council finances and reserves.
The council leader added that some Tory MSs had told him privately that they were “embarrassed” by what is posted to the Welsh Conservative’s social media pages.
Posting to X, the council leader said: “This is complete nonsense from Welsh Tories! Most of the reserves are capital reserves, earmarked for infrastructure like the new schools we are building or includes school balances & insurance fund. No wonder some of your Tory group tell me privately they are embarrassed.”
He later added: “You fail to notice that we are using £9.5m towards current years budget & plan similar amount for this coming April for next years budget. Also once you run out of reserves you end up like councils in England with 114 notices, basically going bust. Let’s meet for public debate?”
In another post on the Welsh Conservatives website, Shadow Education Minister Laura Anne Jones also pointed to RCT Council’s “usable reserves” whilst commenting on who is eligible for free school transport in the local authority.
The leader of RCT Council said the vast majority of council reserves are already set aside for “specific purposes”.
He accused the Welsh Tories of “a poor form of politics” where they “seek to copy the Tories in London on spreading misinformation”.
Cllr Morgan said: “Apart from the fact that not only are we using some reserves in this financial year towards plugging the budget gap, and we are planning to do the same in the forthcoming financial year; the Welsh Conservatives seem not to be aware that the vast majority of council reserves are set aside for specific purposes.
“Following their misguided post, I’d ask the Tories exactly where they would like me to take the extra money from? Would it be from the Capital Investment Fund that helps pay for infrastructure projects which are already under way, such as helping us to build new schools across RCT?
“Are they suggesting that we take money out of the Delegated Schools Reserve? This would be taking money off individual school balances if so. Are they suggesting it should be taken from the Council’s Insurance Fund? Or maybe no longer progress with invest to save projects such as energy efficiency and renewable energy or from other Capital funding that we have secured which is due to be spent in the coming year on
specific and priority projects.
“Money, for example, we have secured to in-source more children’s homes, where we are buying and renovating more homes in RCT in order to keep children in care closer to home. If they knew anything about finance, they’d know that their own government rules don’t allow us to use capital monies for revenue spending.
“Or are the Tories suggesting that we take more money from the Council’s General Reserves – which is around £10m – and is used in emergencies such as Storm Dennis, where we used several million before replacing it over subsequent years?”
He added: “The Tories have even suggested that reserves should be used to avoid having to make changes to the Council’s Home to School transport policy, which is currently being consulted on. While having to make any changes would be regrettable, they are only being considered because of the budget situation.
“Even with the proposed changes, the Council would still be funding over £4m of Home to School travel above the statutory minimum. RCT currently has the most generous Home to School policy in all of Wales, and for the Tories to suggest using reserves – the majority of which are already committed to fund capital projects – is disingenuous and simply not realistic nor feasible.
“Unfortunately for the Tories, the facts and the details do not support the headlines that they try to create. It really is a poor form of politics where they seek to copy the Tories in London on spreading misinformation. I will happily challenge the Tories in Wales if they want a proper debate around the use of Council reserves – I would be armed with the facts and I’d say ‘bring it on’.
“Local Authorities across Wales are working hard to manage their finances and we have been able to avoid any Local Authority facing a Section 114 Notice – which is a Council effectively going bankrupt; and I would point the Welsh Tories towards the recent LGA report warning the Conservative Westminster Government that, on their watch, 1-in-10 Councils in England are facing 114 Notices in the coming year”
Nation.Cymru invited Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Local Government Sam Rowlands to provide a statement answering the challenge for a “public debate”.
Mr Rowlands pointed us to the comments he made during Politics Wales at the weekend.
Speaking during Politics Wales on Sunday, Mr Rowlands said: “It’s a real challenge for councillors across Wales at the moment and I really feel for them as members and also for their office teams at the moment dealing with a settlement which is clearly not going to go far enough to deliver the services that our residents need and want.
“I think many people out there are struggling to understand the choices that the Welsh Government are making at the moment. Especially when there are things like 20mph which cost tens of millions of pounds to implement.
“We’ve got a Welsh Government so keen to put more politicians in Cardiff Bay at a cost of around £100m and things like universal basic income being trialled at a cost of millions of pounds as well.
“At the same time we’ve got out local councils doing their best to deliver really important services and not having the level of funding that they need to be able to do that.
“There’s an issue of choices and there’s an issue of abdication of responsibility – which is a government pushing responsibility down to our local councillors making really difficult decisions in those chambers.”
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