(Title Image: Wales Online)
- Recognises the important role played by local authorities in delivering public services across Wales.
- Acknowledges the funding challenges currently faced by Welsh councils.
- Calls on the Welsh Government to review and increase the 2019-20 local government settlement and commission an independent review of the Welsh local government funding formula.
“At the coalface”
Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) said it was councils, not the Welsh Government, who were at the coalface delivering public services; they employ 10% of the entire workforce (including teachers) and have had their funding cut by £1billion in real terms since 2009.
“The current Cabinet Secretary inadvertently exposed his contempt for Welsh local authorities when he compared council leaders just a few weeks ago, when they requested more money for local government, to the starving Oliver Twist, asking for more gruel. It was no surprise to hear a chorus of condemnation and calls for their resignation on the back of those comments because he was compared quite rightly to Mr Bumble, the cruel beadle of the Dickensian workhouse.”
– Darren Millar AM
Band D council tax has trebled since devolution and the Future Generations Commissioner has warned that the Welsh Government are spending too much on health at the expense of everything else. This year’s draft council settlement was further proof the formula used to calculate council budgets was “no longer fit for purpose”.
Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) – who is a former county councillor – said councils play a much broader role than that confined to the direct services they provide. They also contribute to the health of the nation in the form of environmental health, housing, transport. planning and education. He called for the Welsh Government to properly consider how local government can help reduce the need to spend on health and vice versa.
“(Bridgend’s Council Leader) warned, back in the summer, of cuts not just to libraries and swimming pools but to bus subsidies and to nursery provision. So, we are just about to roll out free childcare for three and four-year-olds….when provision in Bridgend could be cut. Since then, the Leader has ended his commitment to protecting schools….and he’s also ended his commitment to protect social services budgets.”
– Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West)
Where will the money come from?
Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) told the chamber that the Tories still haven’t decided where the money would come from for local government. As someone who was on a council funding distribution sub-group, he highlighted that there are always winners and losers when deciding how to distribute the money – an issue like road network length can benefit rural areas, for instance, while poverty and population advantages urban areas.
“….the draft budget shows an increase of 2.4% in the revenue expenditure for 2019-20, but as that funding increased….we saw a cut of 1.9 per cent in the local government budget. That’s a political choice, namely, that decision to cut; not something where there was no choice but to do so. It’s Labour austerity.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)
Washing their hands of their responsibilities
After a string of contributions where AMs raised matters in their own local authorities, the Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) accused the Tories of “washing their hands of all responsibility” for pursuing austerity policies and for pitting communities against communities.
“Let me say this: the Conservatives tell us that they would do things differently, and they’re right, they would….because, in England, they are reducing core Government funding, not by 10 per cent or 20 per cent, but to zero. To zero. They reduced it to nothing at all.”
– Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies
While the Welsh Government was never going to support the motion, he told AMs that when he receives a letter signed by all four political leaders in the WLGA asking for a review of the funding formula, he’ll not stand in its way.
A Welsh Government amended version – which noted recently announced additional funding for councils and removing all reference to an independent review – was approved by 34 votes to 13 with 1 abstention.