TORFAEN council has approved a radical cost-cutting budget, repeatedly called the toughest ever faced by the local authority.
After heated discussions over how best to progress money-saving measures to slash £11.2 million from the 2014/15 budget, the plan was approved by a recorded vote which saw 32 members vote in favour, with seven against, and three more abstaining.
It follows months of scrutiny and engagement between councillors, officers and Torfaen residents, and comes as a result of funding cuts, increased demand for services, and rising costs.
Controversially, the bulk of savings will come from reduced services, increases in fees and charges, reduced staffing and changes to the way some services are delivered, with meals on wheels, school-crossing patrols, and tourism promotion all facing cuts. Only the social-care budget and schools will receive protection as part of a council pledge to protect the most vulnerable residents as much as possible.
A council tax increase of 3.95 per cent was also approved – at around £40 a year extra for Band D homes – to contribute £1.3 million towards the shortfall.
In delivering the report to full council yesterday, council officer Nigel Aurelius, called it an “unprecedented” situation for the public sector.
Councillor Bob Wellington, leader of Torfaen council, said: “We have been open and transparent with residents and councillors about the scale of the challenge, but this has been the most difficult budget Torfaen council has ever faced as it follows five years of savings which has already seen us reduce our budget by £33 million.
“What we are proposing is a budget that offers protection to our priority areas of schools, social care and waste and where savings have had to be made, we’ve focussed on reducing rather than cutting services.
“We have also worked hard to keep job losses at a minimum.
“Finding this level of savings is impossible without taking difficult decisions but we are confident that our proposals are fair, balanced and will ensure protection for our priority services.”
Councillor Anthony Hunt, executive member for resources, said: “Each year we have the difficult task of setting a budget that aims to not place further financial pressure on taxpayers or have a negative impact on vital services.
“Due to several years of consecutive budget cuts, this task has become harder and harder.
“Delivering savings of this scale has involved some extremely difficult decisions and the outlook for the future doesn’t get easier as savings will need to be found from an ever decreasing pot with further uncertainties over funding.
“The council is satisfied these proposals offer the least worse case scenario to deliver a balanced budget and maintain existing services, rather than stopping services.”