Before long all Anglesey residents will be hearing the sound of a big fat envelope dropping through their letterbox. Unfortunately it will contain their 2010/2011 Council Tax bill and is likely to cause several residents to choke on their morning paned. It seems certain that Anglesey County Council will be asking us to pay up to 5% more than last year - the largest such increase in some time. What's more, the bills for 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 could also see a rise of 5% year-on-year too, adding up to a whopping 15% increase over 3 years. Whats going on?
If it seems like a very big jump in the middle of a recession, thats because it is. A survey conducted by the Local Government Chronicle last November found that the average Council Tax bill in England is only set to rise by just 1.6% this year. Even more suprisingly 34 of the 81 English councils which responded are actually planning to freeze or even cut their Council Tax bills. Would that we too could be so lucky.
Considering that Anglesey is officially the poorest County in the entire UK - poorer even than some parts of Poland - one would hope that the Welsh Assembly Government would be doing everything in its power to support the Island. You might hope that - but you would be sorely disappointed. In fact Anglesey County Council was awarded the the lowest settlement in all Wales by the WAG - an increase of just 1.0% and well below the Welsh average of 2.1%. As the actual amount awarded to each council is calculated by some vast Excel chart in Cardiff based on all kinds of demographic data, it seems we should count ourselves lucky that we got even that much as apparently Anglesey could have received even less cash if the Council had not managed to negotiate a 'floor' of 1%.
The size of the WAG settlement (consisting of the Revenue Support Grant and a contribution from the Business Rates Pool) matters as it makes up the lion's share of the Council's budget. The Council Tax we pay only actually covers some 13% of the total, with the rest made up by income and the WAG settlement.
Because of the paltry increase in cash from the WAG, Anglesey County Council now needs to find £2.1 million in cuts to balance its proposed net budget of £117 million for 2010/2011. It intends to do this through "a cut on advertising, an 'austerity drive' and energy savings. Schools will also face a 2% spending cut, saving the council £600,000. Savings of £500,000 will be made on the waste budget as the council reaps the reward of an increase in recycling and reduced landfill." The rest of the cuts will be announced later apparently. Despite all of this, Anglesey residents will still need to stump up 5% more in Council Tax as the WAG Local Government Minister, Brian Gibbons AM, has strictly forbidden councils to use the settlement to reduce the Council Tax burden.
So residents of an Island already devastated by the loss of Anglesey Aluminium, Octel, MEM / Eaton, Peboc and many other smaller companies - plus the imminent decommissioning of Wylfa - will now need to pay 15% more in Council Tax over the next three years. Craziness.
The Druid is not an expert but he would have thought that it would make more sense to see how much money is available first and then decide what services can be delivered for that budget - rather than deciding in advance how much money they want to spend and then scrabbling around trying to find funds to pay for it all.
UPDATE: If you're upset by all of this (and you should be) you may want to attend one of the several public meetings that the Council Leader, Cllr Clive McGregor, has called over the next month:
|20 January 2010||7 - 9pm||Ysgol Uwchradd, Bodedern|
|21 January 2010||7 - 9pm||Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones, Amlwch|
|25 January 2010||7 - 9pm||Holyhead High School|
|27 January 2010||7 - 9pm||Ysgol David Hughes, Menai Bridge|
|1 February 2010||7 - 9pm||Council Chamber, Llangefni|
|2 February 2010||7 - 9pm||Village Hall, Aberffraw|
|3 February 2010||7 - 9pm||Beaumaris Leisure Centre|