At last week's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council, the Plaid Cymru group attempted to reverse the inflation-busting rise in council tax which was proposed by the ruling coalition between the Labour Party and the Independent Party. The coalition is proposing a 3.3% increase in council tax for the coming year, despite the fact that inflation is forecast to fall to zero, or even lower, over the next year.
Plaid's Group Leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, "The economic situation in which we find ourselves is wholly exceptional. It appears that it isn't just a recession of the type we see periodically, but something much worse. At this stage, no-one seems to know how deep it will be, nor how long it will last. In such a situation, it is right and proper that the council should act in a wholly exceptional fashion in order to respond to the crisis, and for that reason, I and my group argued that we should be aiming, for this year at least, to keep the increase as close to zero percent as possible. We put forward a number of suggestions as to how that might be achieved, but unfortunately, the ruling coalition was unwilling to listen to our arguments."
One suggestion put forward by the group was that the council should take account of the £1.9million extra grant which is expected from the Assembly Government. Cllr Gwyneth Thomas said, "The Council has been notified that it will receive an extra grant from the Assembly Government, but has chosen to ignore this money completely in preparing its budgets. There are certain conditions which will need to be met before the council can receive the whole of the grant, and there may be some small costs involved in meeting those conditions. But I am confident that most of the money will be available to the council - and even if they only counted half of it, they'd have enough for a significant reduction in the planned rise. Instead, it seems that they plan to simply ignore this money, and ask the council tax payers to pay extra."
Cllr David Jenkins drew attention to the council's dramatic success in recent years in making savings on its costs of purchasing goods and services. He pointed out that the council had achieved the targets it set for itself well ahead of target, and was still achieving further savings. Cllr Jenkins said, "These extra savings are not included in the budgets put before us, yet the council knows that it will be achieving these further savings. These savings should be passed on to the public in the form of lower council tax, this year of all years. Costs are likely to continue to fall over the coming year, yet the council's budget seems to ignore that fact in order to justify an excessive increase in council tax."
The group made a last minute appeal to the council's Executive Board to think again about its proposals, and to take into account the points which had been made by Plaid's councillors. Cllr Hughes Griffiths said after the meeting, "I felt that we put forward a reasoned and sensible argument to the council, but Labour and Independent Party members chose to ignore the points which we were making. It was clear from some of the comments of members of the ruling coalition that their minds have been made up, and that they simply do not understand the financial pressures which will be faced by ordinary people over the coming year."