Once again, people across Gwent will see their council tax bills going up next month. With this happening repeatedly for several years, some have been asking why exactly this is the case. IAN CRAIG looks at the issue

IT'S a familiar story every year.

As the financial year comes to a close a letter lands on the doormat of every person in Wales and across the UK, telling us the amount we pay in council tax is going up.

Although the average inflation rate over the past ten years has been less than 2.5 per cent, councils across Gwent have put their portion of council tax rates up by an average of 3.39 per cent over the same period.

Newport has seen the biggest increase in rates since 2009, with people living in band D properties seeing bills going up by an average of £320.77 since 2009 – an increase of 35 per cent. The council has put its portion of rates up by an average of 3.99 per cent, the highest in Gwent, each year, with increases varying from a low of 2.9 per cent in 2012 to five per cent in 2015.

Bills for Band D homes in Blaenau Gwent have also gone up by 32 per cent, with residents paying £428.87 more than they were in 2009. The council has put its rates up by an average of 3.77 per cent, including increases of 4.6 per cent in 2013 and 2014, although 2012 and 2015 saw lows of 2.6 per cent.

In Torfaen band D council tax bills have increased by 31.4 per cent, adding an average of an extra £347.92 to annual bills. The council’s portion of rates has increased by an average of 3.68, with this year’s 4.95 per cent increase the largest in the past ten years.

Meanwhile people living in band D homes in Monmouthshire have faced an increase of 28.11 per cent, forcing them to find an extra £321.81, with the council putting its rates up by an average of 3.34 per cent a year. But, although this includes rises of 4.95 per cent in 2009 and 2015 and this year, the council also froze rates in 2012 and 2013.

In Caerphilly residents have been the lowest increase, with bills going up by 18.54 per cent since 2009, adding £195.88. The council has put its portion of rates up by an average of 2.19 per cent, with this year’s 4.52 per cent increase by far the greatest over the past ten years. 2016 and 2017 both saw meagre one per cent increases, while rates were frozen in 2011 and 2012.

It is impossible to say how much rates have gone up overall across an area due to other regional precepts set by community councils which only apply to people living in the areas they cover. For example, a resident in Rogerstone also pays a precept through their council tax bills to Rogerstone Community Council, while people living in Pontypool pay a levy to Pontypool Community Council.

And a portion of council tax also goes to police and other services. Gwent’s police and crime commissioner Jeff Cuthbert has confirmed his precept will go up by 4.37 per cent next month.

But Gwent is not alone in seeing bills increase year on year, and thankfully residents in the region have been spared anything on the scale of the 12.5 per cent increase Pembrokeshire residents will see in April – the first double digit increase anywhere in Wales in 14 years and well above the Welsh Government’s informal five per cent cap.

But, with the lowest rate in Wales still a not-insignificant 3.3 per cent, set by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, it’s clear this is an issue across the country.

But why does this keep happening?

Depending on who you ask, it’s either the fault of the Welsh Government for constituently cutting local government funding, or Westminster for its ongoing austerity agenda, which has in turn reduced the amount of funding available to Wales.

Ask the Labour leadership of Newport City Council or Carwyn Jones’ cabinet, for example, and the finger will be pointed firmly at Theresa May’s Westminster government. But any Conservative-run authority, such as Monmouthshire, will say the onus is on Cardiff Bay to make sure the cash their given is handed out in a way which allows councils to keep services running.

The truth, as is often the case, is somewhere in the middle.

A spokesman from the Welsh Local Government Association, which represents councils across the country, said: “On average, council tax across Wales will rise by about five per cent in the next financial year which make up around a quarter of the budget gap faced by councils.

“Each year local authorities face annual pressures of around £200 million due to higher wage bills and demographic pressures while Welsh Government funding reduces in real terms.

“Each authority’s circumstances will differ but they will all be considering, to a greater or lesser extent, how much council tax to raise to partially offset cuts.”

He added: “The cuts announced in this year’s local government settlement mean that councils will have little recourse but to continue to make difficult decisions and prioritise services in the future.

“Each council will be making decisions tailored the needs their communities.”

A Newport City Council spokeswoman said the authority had faced “year on year reductions” in its funding.

“In 2018/19, council tax will contribute about 23 per cent of the council’s income which goes towards the running expenses of providing services to the community,” she said.

“The council gets the other 77 per cent of its income from government grants and other charges.

“It also collects tax on behalf of the police and crime commissioner for Gwent and several community councils.

“This year’s increase of 4.8 per cent equates to an extra £48.42 a year or less than 94p a week on a Band D property.

“Even with this rise, it expected Newport will still have the second lowest council tax in Wales and one of the lowest in the UK.”

She added the council had “acted prudently” to avoid bigger increases, saying: “This means (Newport City Council) it is not in the perilous position that some councils in England find themselves.

“Savings of many millions have been made over the last nine years, including £41 million in the last five years, by making efficiencies, reducing the number of staff and finding innovative ways of providing those services.

“The challenges are set to continue with more cuts in local government funding expected in coming years.”

Meanwhile, Torfaen County Borough Council leader Cllr Anthony Hunt described increases in council tax as “just one of the unfortunate consequences of austerity”.

“This year, as our government grants are cut again and demand on services increases, we struggled long and hard to strike the right balance between a budget that protects key local services like schools, social care for the vulnerable and key neighbourhood services, whilst keeping council tax as low as possible,” he said.

“The 4.95 per cent increase we decided on helps us address a budget shortfall of £8.9 million this year, but we’re making savings of around £7 million to go the rest of the way to balancing our books.

“The increase works out at £1.13 per week for an average band D property.”

He added the council, which is also run by Labour, had been faced with little choice but to make cuts to services, but had done as much as it could to minimise the impact on residents.

“We know increasing council tax puts pressure on household budgets, but without a rise, we’d have to find almost £2 million of extra cuts, which would harm vital services like schools, social care and cleaning and greening, with valued local services closing or reducing, meaning communities would ultimately suffer,” he said.

“Unfortunately, this is the reality of austerity.”

Meanwhile a spokesman from Conservative-run Monmouthshire County Council said the authority consistently receives the lowest level of funding from the Welsh Government, which has led to “difficult choices”.

“Setting a budget for an organisation as complex as Monmouthshire County Council is not straightforward,” he said.

“Everything that we do is important and making choices which involve reductions is not simple.”

He added: “We have tried to be balanced in our considerations and set a direction that is good for the whole county and reflects the many, sometimes conflicting, priorities of citizens.

“The council continues to do its best in difficult circumstances to promote the ongoing sustainability and resilience of the whole county.

“The final budget proposals continued to see all local services maintained and the council tax increase held at 4.95 per cent.”

A spokeswoman for Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, which is currently led by an Independent group, pointed the finger at the Welsh Government.

“A funding gap of £3.3 million meant tough decisions had to be made when setting the 2018-19 budget, not only around council tax but about making changes to and even stopping some services,” she said.

But she added the almost 85 per cent of homes in the borough fall into bands A or B, meaning overall council tax rates are among the lowest in Wales.

“Council tax makes up 21 per cent of the overall £140 million budget for the council, the third lowest of 22 local authorities in Wales,” she said.

“The 4.2 per cent rise equates to 81p a week for a band A property and 95p per week for a band B property.”

Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Labour leader Cllr Dave Poole said the authority had “reluctantly” agreed to the 4.52 per cent increase, which will see bills for a band D property increase by £45.74, or 88p a week.

“No-one in local government wants to see council tax increasing, but unfortunately we have been placed in a very difficult position due to the ongoing period of austerity and the significant cuts in funding from central government,” he said.

“We are faced with the dilemma of choosing between agreeing a reasonable increase in council tax or finding even more cuts to add to the list.”

He added: “It is clear that we are going through a very difficult period and this is compounded by the increasing demands on social service due to our ageing population and the pressures of caring for our looked-after children.

“Unfortunately there are even tougher times ahead with a cumulative savings requirement of £40.822 million from 2018/19 to 2022/23.

“The government needs to seriously consider the impact of the current approach and the ability of public services to deliver vital front line services to the community in future.”

Whoever’s fault it is, doubtlessly we’ll be back here again this time next year.


  • Newport: 4.8 per cent.

  • Torfaen: 4.95 per cent.

  • Monmouthshire: 4.95 per cent.

  • Blaenau Gwent: 4.2 per cent.

  • Caerphilly: 4.52 per cent.