LAST-MINUTE tweaks to Blaenau Gwent Council’s budget for the coming financial year mean council tax bills will increase by lower than previously planned.

The new 3.45 per cent increase in April is lower than the four per cent hike that had been expected.

To allow for the reduced level of income from council tax bills, more money will be needed from the council’s reserves.

The changes also see more money to be given to schools – which respondents to the budget consultation process said should be the council’s top priority.

The funding black hole that needed to be plugged in next year’s budget also reduced slightly from £6.7 million to £6.62 million.

The amount needed to be found in cuts and savings next year levels out at £3.03 million.

The changes were made at a special meeting of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council on Thursday, February 23.

Council leader, Cllr Steve Thomas said: “By awarding schools a 4.2 per cent increase to cover the pay award, we’re looking to set a council tax of 3.45 per cent.

He explained that the use of both specific and general reserves would total £4.297 million which would be used to produce a balanced budget.

Cllr Thomas said: “We’ve tied in as much as we can to the consultation responses, tried to reduce where we can and look to save key frontline services that the public have said are really important to them.

“We are mindful that next year could turn out worse – by utilising £4.297 million of reserves we’re keeping some back for next year.”

Opposition group leader Cllr Joanna Wilkins said: “We fully acknowledge the difficulties presented this year, I’ve had several sleepless nights about it and I’m sure Cllr Thomas has as well.”

Cllr Wilkins said that the Independent group’s proposals were “not a million miles away” from what the Labour administration was proposing.

She added that some of the cuts proposals that had been made public in the consultation such as Armistice Parades had caused anger and believed they should not be included in future proposals.

Cllr Thomas said that they only way people would understand what Blaenau Gwent council is facing was “to lay it all bare before the public.”

Cllr Wilkins proposed a council tax increase of 2.5 per cent.

The cuts and savings would be £3 million and they would allow grants to community groups to continue to be funded.

To plug the funding hole, more money from reserves totalling £4.72 million.

Deputy Independent group leader, Cllr Wayne Hodgins said: “What we must be mindful is that the cost have increased for the people we represent.

“We’ve got reserves and I’d like us to use them.

He added that people were telling him that they were having to use money set aside for funeral costs or to put their children through higher education – to pay their bills.

“I would appeal to all, that 2.5 per cent is acceptable,” said Cllr Hodgins

Cllr Thomas pointed out that the council needed to be wary that money could be needed to fund higher pay awards as well as worse government settlement next year.

The alternative proposal went to a vote and lost by 19 votes to 12.

Cllrs Thomas and Wilkins agreed this could also be taken as a vote to endorse the budget and it was duly approved.