THE LEADER of Torfaen council says the authority will try to “minimise the impact” of any council tax rise - but he has insisted that any suggestion it could be frozen while protecting services is a “false choice.”

The county borough council is drawing up its plans for next year’s budget after being handed a better than expected settlement from the Welsh Government, with the authority being given a 4.5 per cent increase in funding.

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Senior councillors welcomed the settlement at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, but they warned there are still challenges ahead.

This year’s budget is predicted to be in deficit by £1.6 million, with an overspend of £2.27 million in the social care and housing department.

Councillor Anthony Hunt, leader of the council, said the increase in funding came after 10 years of austerity - adding that it cannot just be viewed as “the good times coming back.”

“One thing I would hate to see happen is that the better settlement makes the false choices which we have tried to reject rear their head again, because whatever the settlement this year it is a completely false choice to present that we could somehow freeze council tax and still safeguard vital services,” he said.

“That just does not add up and we need to be very clear in that.”

Councillor Hunt said the authority will aim to “maximise investment in key areas”, while “minimising the impact of any council tax rise” in its budget proposals.

A budget estimate for next year, made earlier this year, included a council tax rise of 4.95 per cent, but this could change.

While detailed proposals have yet to be drawn up, Cllr Hunt signalled that school budgets will be among the areas prioritised.

Cllr David Yeowell warned against making “knee-jerk reactions” to the better than expected settlement.

The cabinet member for education said the authority needed to take a ‘considered’ approach, particularly in light of potential uncertainty over the impact of Brexit.

Cllr Kelly Preston, executive member for resources, said the council is “working hard to put together proposals which invest in and protect vital services while keeping council tax as low as possible.”

Detailed budget plans will now be drawn up and considered by Torfaen council’s cabinet at a meeting on Tuesday, February 11.