CUTS of nearly £740,000 have been reconsidered by Caerphilly council following a public consultation on its budget proposals for next year.

The authority’s leader, Dave Poole, says a ‘clear message’ had been sent about ‘unpalatable’ savings, some of which have been deferred indefinitely or until next year.

Early reports suggested the council was looking to save £15.6 million in 2019/2020, with cutbacks to public services worth £14.6 million –  but this has changed to £13.9 million.

Plans to raise council tax by 6.95 per cent – raising £4.6 million – remain in place, which has continued to be contentious amongst opposition groups.

South Wales Argus: Caerphilly council wants to increase its council tax by 6.95 per centCaerphilly council wants to increase its council tax by 6.95 per cent

But some savings will be reviewed by cabinet members on February 13, including:

  • Community safety wardens (£247,000) – plans to scrap the service altogether have been shelved, but current numbers will be cut from nine to six.
  • Meals on wheels service (£141,000) – the council planned to make Meals Direct only available for those eligible for aftercare once leaving hospital, but this will now be considered in a wider review of the council’s catering service.
  • Closure of Aberbargoed and Penallta household waste recycling centres (£98,000) – the future of both sites will be revisited after a comprehensive waste review is completed.
  • One-year reduction in waste vehicle availabity (£390,000) – a ‘temporary’ budget cut has been reduced to £300,000.
  • Community centre budget cuts/closures and withdrawal of caretaker support (£97,000) – deferred for a year to allow a period of 12-month notice. If alternative funding isn’t found by local groups, council funding will be cut.
  • Introduction of rat treatment charges (£20,000) – deferred indefinitely.
  • Match funding for community schemes at Bargoed Ice Rink and Senghenydd Splash Pad (£15,000) – deferred until 2020/2021.

Cllr Poole said the authority was able to reconsider the proposals after receiving a ‘slightly better than expected’ settlement from the Welsh Government last December.

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“The feedback received from the recent budget consultation sent a clear message that some of the proposed savings were unpalatable,” he said.

“We are now able to make some adjustments, and this clearly demonstrates ‘you said, and we listened’.

“However, we are not complacent as there is still much to do to ensure that we rise to the challenge of the very difficult budget pressures that lie ahead.”

Plaid Cymru group leader Colin Mann criticised plans to stick with the 6.95 per cent tax rise, which he said was twice the rate of inflation.

South Wales Argus: Councillor Colin Mann, leader of Caerphilly council's Plaid Cymru groupCouncillor Colin Mann, leader of Caerphilly council's Plaid Cymru group

“This is at a time when most people are under pressure and have seen their wages increase by much less than inflation, or not at all,” he said.

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“The restoration of some cuts is sadly only temporary, and the longer-term intention has not changed.”

Similar views were shared by Independent group leader Kevin Etheridge, who said he would not be voting for the council tax rise when it goes before members on February 21.

South Wales Argus: Councillor Kevin Etheridge, leader of the Independents on Caerphilly councilCouncillor Kevin Etheridge, leader of the Independents on Caerphilly council

Cllr Etheridge also remains concerned about £243,000 being cut from the school improvement initiatives budget used to support schools struggling to improve inspection outcomes.

“Education has got to be a priority,” he added.

Both opposition councillors welcomed the partial restoration of community safety wardens, which Cllr Etheridge described as ‘essential alternatives to the police’.