TIME spent on hold to Monmouthshire council is set to increase due to £11.4 million of budget cuts which will also target children and adults reliant on social services.
But the councillor responsible for preparing the county council’s budget for the upcoming year has said it is also protecting community hubs and leisure centres – by reducing their opening hours – and providing greater support to schools despite a reduction of more than £1 million in the budgets they receive.
Cllr Rachel Garrick has been facing council scrutiny committees to answer questions on the first budget prepared by the minority Labour administration since it came into power at County Hall in Usk last May.
One of the meetings, which will continue this Thursday, hit the headlines when Cllr Garrick was filmed knitting while answering questions over a video link. She was criticised by opposition Conservatives who claimed it was disrespectful but the Caldicot Castle councillor said the activity helped her cope with pain, and to concentrate, and that her political rivals had failed to understand diversity.
Defending the budget the Labour councillor said the authority was facing cost increases, and demands on services, totalling £26 million in the next financial year and is having to find cuts and savings to make up the difference alongside a 5.95 per cent council tax increase. Its Welsh Government funding will increase by £10.2m.
Slashing the opening hours plans hours of the council’s six community hubs and reducing the number of staff will save £150,000 and Cllr Garrick said: “We are doing all in our power to ensure all hubs remain open.”
The county’s four leisure centres will also remain open with opening hours set to be reduced where usage is low and it has also been confirmed the authority will continue to support Usk Post Office which is understood to be only such initiative in the UK.
Other cuts include reducing staffing levels at the council’s contact centre by 2.5 full-time equivalent posts and Cllr Garrick said: “It will take a little longer to answer the phone.”
As a one off measure the council will reduce by 50 per cent its budget for new library books and Cllr Garrick said the council is also listening to suggestions at public consultation meetings currently ongoing.
“We had a member of the public ask can we have a drive to ask members of the public to donate books, I thought that was a very good idea.”
The biggest cuts however are in adult and children’s social services.
The budget for social care and health will be cut by £4.3m while the children’s and young people’s budget it also being reduced by £1.9m.
Some savings in social care will be made by asking some people to pay more for their care, by reviewing charges, but the council’s social care chief Jane Rogers has said establishing a falls prevention service is also intended to save money by reducing the numbers placed in nursing homes.
Similarly in children’s services it is intended to make savings by being less reliant on expensive out of county placements and increasing the number of foster carers in Monmouthshire.
Green Party councillor Ian Chandler raised concern about the council’s “ability to deliver savings” and the “collateral impact” of some of the proposals.
The budget delegated to schools will reduce by 2.8 per cent, which works out at £1.45m, but the council says this is after it will meet their pay and energy cost increases.
Cllr Martyn Groucutt, the cabinet member for education, said there is currently one school in the county with a deficit budget, that is its costs are greater than what it receives in funding, and that could rise to seven but it will support and advice schools on managing finances.
He said: “It will be difficult for a few more schools, probably this year most schools do have some reserves.”
He said money retained by the education department is mostly to cover the costs of home to school transport and additional learning needs provision.