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Council sets its budgets for the coming year

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has approved its budgets for 2022-23, which includes a modest council tax increase to support the delivery of essential frontline services and significant investment in key regeneration projects.

Council Tax will increase by 2.5 percent – roughly 66p a week more for the average band D household, or £34.07 a year.

Council Tax contributes around a quarter of the county council’s annual revenue budget which is spent on providing services to residents and businesses in Carmarthenshire.

The biggest share of Council Tax contributions goes towards education and children’s services, followed by housing and adult social care.

In 2022-23 the contributions will also help the council cope with inflationary pressures, including increasing energy bills and the rising cost of providing services such as school meals.

The capital budget will provide a £275million investment in projects which will include regeneration schemes, redevelopment of schools, leisure facility improvements and advanced waste and recycling schemes.

Cllr David Jenkins, Cabinet Member for Resources, said the budgets were set following careful consideration of feedback from the public which resulted in some saving proposals being removed and the Council Tax increase kept to a minimum in recognition of the rising cost of living.

“Through careful financial planning we have been able to set a balanced budget that will support the council to continue delivering vital services whilst also absorbing increasing inflationary pressures,” he said.

“This budget is not only sustainable, but ambitious, and will allow us to continue providing first-class services to the residents and businesses of Carmarthenshire.”

Cllr Emlyn Dole, Leader of the Council, said the council’s capital programme will support the authority’s plans to boost the economy, stimulate growth and create jobs as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Capital funding has been allocated for a range of transformational projects, including a health, wellbeing and cultural services Hwb in Carmarthen; the completion of the Twyi Valley Path between Carmarthen and Llandeilo; and Zone 1 of the Pentre Awel health, wellbeing and research development in Llanelli.

Significant investment will be made to continue improving schools, disabled facilities, waste and recycling collections, leisure facilities and more.

The council has a legal responsibility to set a balanced budget every year, ensuring that income from sources such as Council Tax, revenue from paid-for services and grants is enough to cover planned expenditure, as well as having money in reserves to pay for unplanned expenses and emergencies.

For more information about the council’s budget, and a breakdown of how Council Tax contributions are spent, visit www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales

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Community

Households in Carmarthenshire start to receive £150 cost of living payment

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MORE than 31,000 homes in Carmarthenshire have started to receive a £150 cost of living payment to help tackle the cost of living crisis.

The council is making a single payment directly into the bank accounts of all eligible households that pay their council tax by direct debit. These payments have been able to be made because the council already holds this information.

For all other eligible households where the council does not hold bank details (approximately 40,000), letters have started to go out with information on how to apply for the payment by completing a short online registration form. 

Please do not attempt to register your details until you receive your letter as you will need an access key code.

Householders that do not have online access are being advised to attend one of their Hwbs in Llanelli, Ammanford or Carmarthen where one of their customer service team will be able to provide support. 

Please take along the letter containing your access code as well as proof of residency, such as a driving licence, utility bill or bank statement (no older than 3 months).

The council aims to make payment within 20 working days from application, as long as there are no queries with the information provided.

The cost of living payments are being provided to all households in properties in council tax bands A to D, and all households which receive support from the Council Tax Reduction Scheme regardless of their council tax band.

The payments are being delivered by local authorities across Wales on behalf of the Welsh Government to support households as we recover from the pandemic and to help deal with the impact of increasing energy and other costs.

Please be assured the council is working as quickly as possible to process these payments and if there are any queries householders will be contacted directly.

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Community

Older people in Carmarthenshire face misery as cost-of-living increases, warns local charity

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OLDER people will face the real possibility of not being able to heat their homes or even afford food, as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, warns local Carmarthenshire charity.

Care & Repair Carmarthenshire supports thousands of older homeowners in the county and have raised the alarm for what they describe as an “escalating situation”.

Care & Repair Carmarthenshire Chief Officer, Mark Warren said: “We believe that everyone deserves to live independently for as long as they’d wish to. Yet, with the cost-of-living rising, the situation is becoming desperate. So, with the local elections taking place, we’re calling on newly elected local councillors to do everything they can to ensure our older residents aren’t forgotten.”

Latest figures for the county show that it now costs up to £1,455 every year on average to heat our homes. Even before the cost-of-living crisis, 16% of our over 65’s were already in poverty. With few options to offset this increase in cost, it is older people who will often struggle the most with the sudden rise in bills.

Richard Leahy and Mark Warren

With the cost-of-living so high many will turn off their heating altogether, yet evidence shows that living in a cold home worsens health conditions associated with later life, such as Alzheimer’s and respiratory conditions.

Rising costs of materials are making repairs harder, and some households have put off repairs in recent years because of Covid. The condition of a property impacts on the well-being of those who live there, with a cold and damp house likely to cause significant health issues.

For vulnerable older and disabled people, there is support available. Care & Repair Carmarthenshire’s Caseworkers can visit older people at home and provide free advice and support on home energy saving techniques and housing improvements. They also run a Handyperson service for the county’s older residents.

Home Maintenance Officer, Richard Leahy, said: “We see a lot of older people who are afraid of being scammed by rogue traders or simply don’t know where to go for help with small repairs and adaptations. It’s a very rewarding job as people are always very grateful for our help’’.

A Care & Repair client from Llanelli, recently said: “I have had a stair rail fitted today, and can I just say how courteous and efficient the gentleman was. I believe in praise when you get staff like this. I felt very comfortable and at ease with him in my home. Also, my 21-year-old son was very impressed with him and said, ‘top man he is mam’! So, Thank You.”

Care & Repair Carmarthenshire can often help with the cost of works using funding received from Welsh Government, Carmarthenshire County Council and other sources, accessed by the Agency on behalf of their clients. During the 2021/22 financial year, the Agency helped over 2,000 older people complete vital repairs and adaptations so that they could continue to live safely and independently at home. These repairs and adaptations cost over £1 million, carried out by both local contractors and the ‘in-house’ Practical Services Team.

A major piece of advice being given by Care & Repair to older people is to make sure to claim the benefits they are entitled to. According to the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, over £200 million of Pension Credit went unclaimed in Wales last year. Each year, Care & Repair Carmarthenshire help hundreds of older people claim the benefits they are entitled to, raising around £380,000 extra income per year for their clients.

If you or an older loved one needs repairs, adaptions or help with keeping the home warm, contact 01554 744300 or visit www.careandrepair.org.uk/carmarthenshire.

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Money

Cabinet proposes reducing Council Tax increase to 66p a week

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County Hall

CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s Cabinet has proposed reducing the Council Tax increase despite the cost of living rising at its fastest rate in three decades and the continued pressures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members met today to discuss feedback from the public budget consultation as well as to review the council’s current financial position.

After further consideration of the authority’s draft budget, Cabinet Members have agreed to cut the previously proposed increase of 4.39% to 2.5% in recognition of the pressures being faced by residents.

Now, a proposed Council Tax increase of 2.5% percent is being recommended to Full Council – that would mean a weekly increase of 66p on the average Band D property or £34.07 for the year.

All 74 members of the council will meet in March to discuss the recommendation and make a final decision.

Cabinet Member for Resources Cllr David Jenkins said that they had reviewed their budget plan and made key adjustments which allowed leeway to cap the council tax at 2.5%.

Cllr Jenkins said: “The public response to the consultation quite clearly indicated a majority favoured the lowest increase possible and I would like us to do everything we can to support our residents, recognising that the cost of living is rising at its fastest rate in three decades.

“To be able to set a Council Tax increase as low as 2.5%, I believe is a great achievement considering that there are so many financial risks and pressures with the budget this year, including the recognition that inflation is running well in excess of 5 %. This low increase will hopefully help all our residents of the county.

“Adopting these proposals, allows the Cabinet to present a fair and balanced budget to county council, which responds to the major concerns fed back from the consultation but also recognises the significant inflationary pressures that are being placed in front of the council over the forthcoming year and the financial risks of any future response to COVID-19.”

The council has a legal responsibility to set a balanced budget every year, ensuring that income from sources such as Council Tax, revenue from paid-for services and grants is enough to cover planned expenditure, as well as having money in reserves to pay for unplanned expenses and emergencies.

Cllr Jenkins added: “I would like to express my thanks to all who took part in the consultation or responded to the surveys. One thing that is generally clear from those who took part in the consultation is that they do appreciate that difficult choices need to be made.”

Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths said: “We have had two extremely hard years with COVID and to be able to present a budget which maintains and develops the services we have is quite an achievement.”

The budget also includes no proposed cuts to school budgets for the next financial year, Cllr Jenkins said: “There are no savings allocated to delegated school budgets next year, allowing headteachers and all schools staff to continue to put all their focus into helping Carmarthenshire’s learners get back on track after what has again been a disruptive two years.”

Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “We are continuing to see the impact of the pandemic on our schools, it has been a very difficult for staff and learners and we haven’t yet seen the end of this with the omicron variant.

“We have supported the schools to the best of our abilities, and I want to thank all our head teachers and staff for working with us.

“This is excellent news for all our schools allowing them to deliver the current level of service in future years.”

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