Cardiff residents are being urged to take part in a far-reaching budget consultation which could see services cut and charges increased as the council looks to find £30.5m to balance the books in 2024/25 amidst a public sector funding crisis.
Several factors including inflation, demand pressures, and expected pay increases for teachers, carers and other public sector workers, mean the council’s budget for delivering day-to-day services like education, social care, refuse collection, parks and libraries is set to cost £56m more next year than it will this year.
Welsh Government’s recently announced 4.1% grant uplift for Cardiff – less than half of what the council received for the current year’s budget – will bring in an additional £25.5m, leaving a budget gap of £30.5m. This gap will now need to be filled by cuts to services, efficiency savings, and increases in charges like council tax.
A public consultation on a series of possible service changes which could help make savings and raise income will open on Monday, January 8, and run for around four weeks until midnight, Sunday, February 4. In it, residents will be asked for their views on possible changes to services which could help bridge the gap.
Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Modernisation, Cllr Chris Weaver, said: “The settlement increase we have received from Welsh Government is a huge cut on the previous year, the reduction sees us almost £30m worse off. We know Cardiff is not alone in this regard. There is a public sector funding crisis across the UK which is hitting all elements of society. It will mean cuts to services that people rely on and increases in charges at a time when the whole country is facing a cost-of-living crisis.
“We have to balance the books and doing so after a decade of austerity, which saw council services hammered, and then dealing with the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis which followed, means there are some really tough choices ahead. This budget consultation will be the most important one we have ever done. Services people rely on and have come to expect will have to change or go, and charges will have to increase if we are to maintain many others. I urge Cardiff residents to take part in this consultation. We need you to tell us which services matter to you most. We will do everything we can to protect schools, social care, and frontline services like youth services – but there are difficult choices we face to protect these vital services, and Councils are at the stage where some services could disappear for good.”
Since the cost-of-living-crisis more and more people are turning to the Council for support. This means that the demand for council services is increasing. For example:
- The demand for social care is the biggest driver of the budget gap facing the council;
- The number of people accessing the Council’s advice services has doubled since before the pandemic;
- Waiting lists for temporary accommodation are at historically high levels, having increased by 150% over the past two years;
- The number of rough sleepers has more than tripled since 2022/23;
- The work done by the Council’s into-work advice team has increased by 75% between now and the same period in 2019/20; and
- There has been a significant increase in the number of people seeking support to access Universal Credit.
Everything the council needs to buy to deliver its services is costing more. There have been particularly high increases in the cost of care which the Council has to commission to look after vulnerable people, and in the amount it pays to help transport children who need support to school.
Over recent years the council has had to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, and a cost-of-living and energy crisis which have hit public services hard.
More and more people are looking to the Council for support, be it for housing, for employment, for care for older relatives or for family support. But current economic conditions and government spending decisions mean the council does not have the funding it needs to respond.
The budget consultation sets out the changes to council services which are being considered to balance the budget in 2024/25, including:
- Considering charging for collection of garden waste as most other councils in Wales do.
- Saving money by collecting black bin/bag waste once every three weeks instead of every fortnight. This should also help boost recycling rates.
- Restricting opening times of Hubs and libraries and using more volunteers to help run the service – but not closing any library in full.
- Increasing residential and pay and display parking charges.
- Increasing the cost of hiring sports pitches.
- Increasing the price of the burials and cremation service.
- Changing the ways parks are managed, including reducing the maintenance on sections of parks and green spaces, reducing the number of floral displays and re-wilding some planting areas.
- Increasing the cost of school meals, although we will continue to subsidise this service.
Full details will be available to residents when the consultation opens online on January 8. Printed copies of the consultation in multiple languages will also be available in libraries, Hubs and council buildings in the New Year for anyone unable to take part digitally.
Once the consultation is completed final proposals will be brought to Full Council to consider on Thursday, March 7.
Most of the council’s current £804m annual budget – around 70% – goes on paying for schools and social services. Each 1% council tax rise brings in around £1.7m.
Cllr Weaver added: “Most of the money the Council receives comes from grants from Welsh Government. Only about 26% comes from Council Tax. Over two thirds is spent on running schools and social services. Without council tax many of the other important services we deliver could be lost or face severe cuts. Any increase in Council Tax will go some way towards helping us maintain important services our citizens rely on as we plan our way through this crisis.
“We intend to protect schools as best we can from cuts and have tried to ensure that whilst there might be some reductions in service or increased charges following this consultation, we maintain key services across the city as much as possible.
“Taken together, the Council is facing soaring demand pressures and spiralling costs resulting in a budget challenge as great as anything we have ever faced.
“Last year the council received a 9% uplift in its grant from Welsh Government, this year that figure has more than halved. The Welsh Government faced very difficult choices themselves as there is simply not enough funding to Wales to maintain services as they are, but it clearly leaves us with a substantial gap in our finances which we need to fix.
“We need to find £30.5m – a huge amount of money – especially after cutting around a quarter of a billion from our budget over the past ten years.
“We have already been making efficiency savings throughout the year to prepare for the financial storm we knew was heading our way. We know there is a cost-of-living crisis but there’s little doubt council tax will have to rise to help close the gap. By how much we can’t yet say. We need to understand the services people want to see delivered in future and what they are willing to pay more for, which is why this consultation is so important.
“Each percentage rise in Council Tax only brings in £1.7 million, so to set a balanced budget we will need to make considerable savings from services and income charges.
“The 4.1% budget increase received from Welsh Government will be used to try to protect important services like social care and school budgets. We are looking at increasing school budgets by 4.1% matching the monies received from Welsh Government, and we will do everything we can to protect social services and the most vulnerable in our communities.
“But there’s little doubt that we now need to look at some harder-to-face options to bridge the gap. There are some extremely tough choices which will need to be made, which is why it’s so important residents take part in the budget consultation and tell us what really matters to them.”
The Budget proposals will be scrutinised by a number of the council’s Scrutiny Committees in the week beginning Monday January 8.