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Cardiff’s budget to tackle ‘cost of living crisis’ revealed

Cardiff City Hall

A budget designed to create new jobs, build new council homes, and improve opportunities for children and young people, while protecting the least well off as the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ takes hold, has been revealed by Cardiff Council.

Cardiff Council’s Cabinet is bringing forward proposals that could see millions spent helping those most in need as the city looks to leave the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic behind it.

The proposals are part of the 2022/23 budget report which will go to Cabinet for approval on Thursday, February 24. If agreed, Full Council will vote on the budget proposals at its next meeting on March 3.

If Council passes the Budget proposals, Cardiff’s schools would receive an extra£9.3m; adults and children’s services an extra £23.9m; and youth services and spending on young people an extra £2.4m.Council Tax would be set well below inflation at 1.9% – which is just 48p a week for a Band D household – down from last year’s 3.5% increase.

Cardiff Council Leader, Cllr Huw Thomas, said: “Last year this council set one of the most important budgets I felt it would ever set. COVID-19 had affected each-and-every one of us and I said then that it would affect our futures for many years to come. After almost two years of combatting the virus there now seems to be a clear way forward, a path to a more normal life. With that in mind, we are looking to the future, preparing our city for better times ahead. But nobody can deny that while we may have turned the corner on the pandemic, we are now facing a cost of living crisis. Every day I meet people who are struggling to make ends meet, rising food, fuel, clothing and energy bills are seeing people left to struggle, dependent on key public services and handouts.

“Our budget consultation with residents made clear they want us to safeguard services which look after the city’s most vulnerable young people and adults; and that the great work and huge improvements we have overseen in our schools carries on. People recognise that folk around them need help and they want their Council to be there to help them.

“This council has been at the forefront of getting Cardiff back up and running as we’ve come through the pandemic. We want to carry on with this work, creating and bringing much-needed jobs, improving educational attainment so our young people have better chances in life, building new council homes so people can have affordable rents. It’s about protecting those most in need. Our plans to re-invigorate the city as a greener and a fairer Cardiff are taking root, and we are doing all of this while safeguarding our public services, the services which have played such a vital role supporting our residents through everything COVID threw at us these past two years.”

Among the proposals are significant spending plans to help Cardiff recover over the next five years, including:

  • £419m investment in social housing including new council homes
  • £205m on new school builds;
  • £77m to improve transport infrastructure, air quality and active travel routes including Western Transport Interchange, cycling routes, road-safety improvements;
  • £50m investment in existing schools infrastructure;
  • £38m investment in Highway infrastructure;
  • £35m in economic development initiatives, including the international sports village, Cardiff East regeneration, Cardiff Market, the wider Atlantic Wharf redevelopment. This is in addition to the new Indoor Arena (which is primarily developer funded);
  • £28m for disabled adaptations to help people continue to live in their own homes
  • £24mto address flooding and coastal erosion;
  • £13m for green energy sustainability projects;
  • £13m investment in parks and playgrounds;
  • £12m to supportrecycling initiatives;
  • £10m for neighbourhood improvements;
  • £3.8minvestment in leisure centres;
  • £3.3m investment in children’s respite provision and accommodation for Looked After Children; and
  • £2.2m investment in youth services and wellbeing hubs;
  • An additional £1.2m will go towards street cleansing and enforcement.

Cabinet member for Finance, Modernisation and Performance, Cllr Chris Weaver, said: “This year Cardiff has received a 10.7% increase in funding from Welsh Government. This represents an additional £52.6m in cash terms. It’s a significant sum, but it comes with several conditions. In fact a good deal of it is already ‘spent’ as it comes with Welsh Government directions that it must be used to fund the real living wage for the care sector, and it will also have to cover the impact of the Health and Social Care levy on employers’ National Insurance contributions. On top of that it needs to account for the closure of the Covid Hardship Fund on March 31st this year.

“The hardship fund was set up by Welsh Government to offset the huge cost of COVID to public sector bodies. The pandemic cost this council £120m over the past two years. We were faced with a bill of £69m on things like PPE and COVID tests alongside a huge increase in demand for our services, like helping the homeless and the most vulnerable, which had to be met. We also saw £51m disappear in lost income during lockdowns. Most of those losses have been covered by Welsh Government’s COVID hardship fund, but they have made clear this fund closes on March 31st this year. Any future spend or losses due to COVID from then on will have to be met from this year’s one-off increase to our budget

“So, despite what seems like a significant uplift, we do still have to remain prudent. COVID is likely to continue affecting our budget across the next financial year at least. Social care, PPE, testing and the potential impact of any new variant means we need to consider all the options to create a budget that safeguards services while giving Cardiff every chance to recover and grow. We intend to do this by continuing with the COVID recovery agenda we set in motion last year and which has been backed in our consultation with residents.

“Of course this doesn’t mean to say we won’t have to make savings either. We will continue to streamline our processes and next year we will make£7.7min savings, which comes on top of the almost quarter of a billion pounds we have saved over the past 12 years. This demonstrates our continued sensitivity to the threat of the pandemic and our commitment to offering residents best value for money. We remain mindful of the risks posed to the council’s finances from further restrictions and will continue to manage the business on a prudent basis, setting a strong foundation to invest in frontline services to aid the quick recovery of the city and supporting the vulnerable.”

Most of the council’s budget(73%)comes from Welsh Government grants. The remaining27%comes from Council Tax. The majority of the council’s budget – around two thirds or 66% – is spent on running schools and social services. Without council tax many of the other important services the council delivers could be lost or face severe cuts.

Cllr Weaver said: “We are really conscious of the cost-of-living crisis which is now being faced by people across the UK. We’ve looked carefully at Council Tax rates for the coming year and tried to find a balance that safeguards important services while keeping any increase within reason. We have been able to reduce our initial calculations down from a 4% increase in Council Tax to 1.9%. This will be among the lowest increases in Council Tax in Wales and amounts to just 48p a week on a Band D property, around £2 a month. I’m pleased it’s a lower rise than we believed we might have to propose and much lower than inflation. It will help us maintain the services our citizens have come to rely on as we plan for a brighter future post pandemic. Anyone who is struggling to pay and is eligible will of course have the opportunity to access support through the Council Tax reduction scheme.”

As part of the budget the council will also be increasing its spend in the following areas:

  • Cardiff’s schools budget will receive an extra £9.3m this year;
  • Social services budgets will increase by £23.9m; with;
  • Adult services receiving an extra £15.5m; and
  • Childrens services receiving an extra £8.4m;
  • £750,000 extra will be spent on youth services specifically, which will see its budget increase for the third year running, with extra investment in the Cardiff Commitment as well; and
  • The council will provide new funding for its One Planet strategy – tackling climate change, making Cardiff a greener and cleaner place to live.

Cardiff Council is also running several Welsh Government (WG) schemes for residents facing financial difficulties.

Details will soon be announced on how the council will implement the recently announced Welsh Government Council Tax support scheme. This will see households in Band A-D properties, and all households which qualify for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme in any band, receive £150 cost-of-living support.