Swansea, Caerphilly and Monmouthshire council tax freezes proposed

Swansea, Caerphilly and Monmouthshire councils are the only authorities in Wales so far who plan to freeze council tax next year, with average increases set for a record low of 2.1%.

Anglesey council plans the biggest rise at 5% - the capped rate - while 15 councils plan to raise rates and three are still to decide.

The figures have yet to be ratified and do not include police precept.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) welcomed the low rises.

Council tax has been frozen in England.

It will be the second year in a row Caerphilly has frozen their rates but the first for Swansea and Monmouthshire.

Stuart Rice, cabinet member for finance at Swansea council, said the freeze was possible because of savings within the council that do not affect front line services.

"We recognise that people are going through tough times at the moment and we do not want to add to the financial burden on them," he said.

"Household bills are continuing to go up, when at the same time many people have seen their incomes frozen or even cut."

Caerphilly council's cabinet member for financial resources Colin Mann praised his authority for being able to freeze rates again.

He said: "We have had tremendous support from employees across the authority making every effort to reduce the cost of delivering services and maintain quality front line services and we have achieved savings of £17m in three years.

"My colleagues in the cabinet have worked hard to make the savings in their own service areas and divert money to where it is most needed and effective."

Monmouthshire council said the meeting to formally set its council tax charge level would not be held until March but a freeze had been agreed.

The council's leaders say despite this they will be able to offer in priority areas "more spending on schools and more spending on the vulnerable", benefiting from savings in the way the authority works.

The council said it has been "relentless in our drive to modernise our delivery of services and driving down costs at every opportunity," which has included looking at leases for buildings, equipment and vehicles, as well as staff rationalisation.

Last year, council tax rose on average by 3% rise across Wales.

This year, Anglesey council wants to raise its tax by 5%, citing a "reduced settlement from the Welsh Assembly Government", while Conwy is looking at a 4% increase.

Andrew Kirkham of Conwy council said the increase would see a band D home owner paying £884.62, but said it was still one of the lowest amounts in Wales and England.

"We're already looking at more savings, but I know in my heart of hearts that we can't deliver a zero per cent increase," he said.

Ceredigion, Blaenau Gwent, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Merthyr Tydfil, Powys, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Torfaen and Wrexham councils want to raise their taxes by between 2.2% and 3.5%.

Carmarthenshire council is planning a 1.97% increase, Pembrokeshire council has set its proposed rate at 1.7%, while Cardiff council plans to impose a 1.44% increase.

Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot, and Vale of Glamorgan councils are yet to indicate their plans.

Rodney Berman, WLGA finance spokesman, said that despite building pressures on budgets, councils across Wales had managed to keep increases to the bare minimum required to protect vital services.

"Our focus is on getting the balance right for our citizens," he said.

"Most families have cut back on their spending but many are still struggling.

"Councils want to minimise the financial impact of council tax increases on these families while ensuring that the vital local services they rely on continue to be provided."

WLGA leader John Davies said he was pleased to see the predicted average increase across Wales had been kept as low as possible.

He said it reflected "the determined effort by councils to strike a balance between providing these vital services but also limiting the pressure on hard-pressed households."

A Welsh government spokesman said: "We welcome that local authorities are predicting a record low increase in council tax for 2012-13.

"The setting of council tax is a matter for each authority reflecting their own needs and priorities. Local authorities are accountable to their electorate for decisions on budgets and associated council tax levels.

"Council tax levels are on average 19% lower than in England, reflecting the better funding settlement provided by the Welsh government compared with England."

Last October, local government minister Carl Sargeant said he was distributing the revenue support grant which allowed councils to freeze council tax if they wanted providing they protected front line services.

"It will be for each local authority to justify their decision on council tax to their citizens," he said.

"I expect local authorities to be forensic in their consideration of the balance between the need to sustain key services for their citizens' benefit and the need to limit any additional pressure on hard-pressed households.

"As in previous years, I stand ready to use the capping powers vested in Welsh ministers to limit any increases that I consider unreasonable."

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