This is an article for the South Wales Evening Post
Setting the council’s budget for the following year is always a difficult and exacting process. Thousands of jobs are dependent on the £384 million budget (of which only 30% comes from council tax), the £38 million capital budget, and the £123 million the council spends on managing and improving its housing stock.
That expenditure also funds key services. Roughly £111 million is spent on social services, protecting some of our most vulnerable adults and children, whilst nearly £168 million is invested in education.
That leaves precious little money for other services such as libraries, refuse collection, road and building maintenance, parks and culture and all the other myriad responsibilities councils have taken on over the years.
It is difficult for an opposition to pull apart a complex budget, built up over a six to eight-month period by a team of professional officers, all working to legal guidelines as to what we can and cannot do. There were though some proposals which we disagreed with and sought to amend.
One of those was the proposal to introduce a £40 a day charge for elderly residents who attend council day centres, £50 a day for younger adults, up to a statutory maximum of £80 a week. Although this charge is to be means tested, we were concerned at those on the margins who might not qualify for exemption but who could still ill-afford this fee. Nearly 75% of those who responded to a consultation on this proposal, opposed it.
Welsh Lib Dem councillors felt strongly that many people who rely on these day centres would be put off by the prospect of having to pay such a high proportion of their income to use it, and that this would increase loneliness, put more pressure on carers and even lead to some day centres closing. However, our costed amendment to scrap this charge was rejected.
We also tabled amendments to stop the closure of five youth clubs and to add a further £450,000 to the planned maintenance of our road network. These were also defeated.