Wales politics

Councils told to scrutinise budgets before tax hikes

Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant
Image caption Carl Sargeant said councils will have to justify their decisions to taxpayers

Councils should take a "forensic" approach to their accounts before deciding to put up council tax, the local government minister has said.

The Welsh government announced the 22 councils will receive £4.061bn from Cardiff Bay in 2012-13, a below-inflation increase of 0.24%.

The largest increase goes to Cardiff, which sees its grant increase by 1.7%.

The biggest loser is Monmouthshire, which loses 1.6% year-on-year.

No freeze

Welsh ministers have decided not to follow the UK government's lead and provide specific funds for councils to freeze council tax.

Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant said: "I expect each local authority to be forensic in considering the balance between the need to sustain key services for their citizens' benefit and the need to limit any additional financial pressure on hard-pressed households.

"As in previous years, it will be for each local authority to justify to their citizens their decisions."

The 2012-13 settlement is out for consultation until 18 November. Mr Sargeant has also announced a proposed increase of 1.3% in the overall grant in 2013-14, and a 0.6% increase in 2014-15.

There are council elections across Wales next May.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said councils would struggle to balance the books.

WLGA leader John Davies said: "In terms of council tax, authorities are hugely conscious of the ongoing struggle that people in our communities face to make ends meet in their everyday finances.

"While there is no grant in Wales for a freeze, councils will do their upmost to bear down on costs and seek efficiencies, showing the same responsibility which last year led to the lowest average council tax rises since local government reorganisation in 1996."

He said the average band-D council tax bill in Wales was around 25% less than in England.

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