COUNCILLORS will have their say on a budget with £11.4 million of cuts and a near six per cent council tax increase sooner than expected.
The budget, the first proposed by the minority Labour group since it came to power in Monmouthshire at last May’s local government elections, was due to go before the full council on March 9, which was just days before the legal deadline for local authorities to approve their spending plans.
That had prompted the leader of the opposition Conservative group Richard John to warn if the Labour cabinet couldn’t get its budget passed the county council could risk insolvency and a ban on all non-essential spending.
Shortly after the warning the Conservatives and the Independent Group at County Hall used their combined power to defeat the Labour administration’s corporate and community plan, a strategic document sitting out its vision for the county.
But Councillor Rachel Garrick, who is the Labour cabinet member responsible for the budget, has confirmed the process has now been brought forward by a week.
The Caldicot Castle member, who has been attending a series of scrutiny meetings where councillors have examining and questioning the proposals, has said the cabinet will hold it final budget meeting on March 1 and put it before the full council the following day.
That will give the cabinet more time to respond should the full council fail to give its approval to the plan which includes a 5.95 per cent council tax increase.
Cllr Garrick said the current year’s budget, set by the previous Conservative administration in March last year, had £9 million of risk – costs the council may not have been able to keep control of in it – and said: “That was realised within four months and was unprecedented and quite a blow to the council.”
She said soaring inflation and factors such as oil and energy prices, Brexit,the pandemic and the war in Ukraine as well as a competitive jobs market had all pushed up costs for the council which in September warned it was facing an £8 million shortfall.
This year’s budget has allocated £3 million from reserves to cover risks and Cllr Garrick said it is expected that energy prices and inflation will come down during 2023.