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Pembrokeshire issues update on council budget following extreme financial pressures

Pembrokeshire County Council

Significant increases in inflation, energy costs and fuel prices are placing unprecedented pressure on council budgets in Pembrokeshire.

The council has this week issued a statement, highlighting factors such as compounded interest rate rises, increased demand in children’s social care and continued uncertainty about future government funding.

Like all other Councils in Wales, Pembrokeshire County Council is facing the most significant budget pressure in its history.

The statement talks of the Authority’s legal responsibility to set a balanced budget. And if they were to remove whole departments such as cultural and leisure services – and their entire environmental services, they would have to lay-off hundreds of staff – and they would still be £1.7m short of funding.

For 2023–24, Pembrokeshire Council are facing an estimated shortfall in funding of £28 million. This is based on the assumption that they receive a 3.5% increase in our settlement from Welsh Government.

Looking further ahead, the current estimate for 2024–25 is predicting a shortfall in funding of £11 million and this is likely to increase. Without making very significant budget savings the Authority will be unable to maintain the current level of services, it says.

Over the past decade, Pembrokeshire County Council  claims to have made budget savings of £90 million.

Cllr Alec Cormack Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance said: “We know that households across our county are facing huge financial challenges this winter. Rising prices make this a cost of living emergency.

“The county council is also facing its most difficult budget pressures ever – as we are on the frontline of supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“None of the choices presented are easy – and the Authority is under intense pressure.

“There has been an increase in the number of people needing our help – social care and homelessness for example are seeing big increases in demand and associated costs.

“The amount we have to pay for things like fuel and materials has also risen – and forecasts suggests that increases are set to continue.

“Our utility costs next year are projected to be £10.1m, that’s an extra £6.3m a year for gas and electric. This is for our schools, leisure centres and street lighting – all vital services for our communities.”

In addition, employment costs have increased, as a result of increases in minimum and living wages, as well as increases in pay provision for staff.

Cllr Alec Cormack added: “Closing the £28 million funding gap with Council Tax payers alone, would need a staggering increase of 40% (or £9.58 weekly for Band D households), which is unaffordable for the vast majority of residents.

“These are unprecedented times – and as such we are formulating a robust plan to achieve budget savings and address the financial challenges we now face. We are working together and will focus all our energy to stabilise our budget position to deliver a plan that works to safeguard our essential services and support our communities.”

“For the reasons highlighted, we are now starting to consult on proposals to reduce our costs, maximise our income and close our massive projected budget gap for next year.  Very few of us will find these proposals desirable but equally neither is a significant Council Tax rise when household finances are also very stretched. The fact is we simply have to stop or significantly reduce many of the things we have been doing and we really want the views of our residents to help us in this.”

The Council are now looking to hear from as many people in Pembrokeshire as possible. Further information and the consultation can be found at: https://haveyoursay.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/