Why is there a gap in the budget and where does it come from?
The biggest part of the funding we receive (66%) comes from Welsh Government (WG) in the form of a grant. Over the past few years the amount of money we have received from Welsh Government has been reducing. For every 1% in the reduction of our grant from Welsh Government the Council loses £1.9m*. In addition to losing money we have had to find money from within our existing resources to pay for things like:
- workforcepay increases - agreed nationally
- rising costs of energy, food, fuel and other services
- the costs of new nationally agreed employer taxes such as the Apprentice Tax Levy
- the costs attached to new legislation such as entitlement to social services
- the rising costs of social care
On top of this, where we have dipped into our reserves or savings, to balance previous years’ budgets - a gap is immediately created in the budget the year after - as reserves can only be spent once and are not available to spend again to plug the gap.
*based on 2018/19 funding
Are all Councils struggling to balance the books or is it just Flintshire?
Councils across Wales and England are speaking out about the risks and impacts of under-funding after many years of austerity. It is not only Flintshire County Council.
For close to a decade now every council in the UK has been managing the consequences of year on year reductions in Government funding.
Each year through innovation, forward thinking and tight ‘house-keeping’ the Council has just about managed to ‘balance the books’. Every year it’s becoming harder and harder, with fewer options left to make more savings whilst at the same time protecting services.
Does Welsh Government give each Council the same amount to fund services?
The amount of money Flintshire receives from Welsh Government is based on something called the Local Government Funding Formula. The Government allocates a proportion of its overall budget to the local government ‘family’ and this is then distributed to all 22 councils in ‘shares’. The Formula makes a theoretical comparative judgement on what each council needs according to its population size, its wealth and poverty, and its rurality.
Flintshire is the sixth largest County in Wales by size of population. However, under the Funding Formula, Flintshire is a low funded Council per head of population. The way the Welsh Government grant is calculated, we are positioned 19 out of 22 Councils in Wales for the amount of money we receive per head of population - £127 per person lower than the Welsh average. If Flintshire were to receive the Welsh average we would be around £19.5m better off financially. This would take the pressure off Council Tax.
What steps has the Council taken in recent years to balance its books?
Over the last 11 years, Flintshire County Council has cut back on its spending by £85m.
We've achieved this massive target by doing things like:
- reduction in senior management posts and their support by more than 50%
- reducing middle management posts
- administration / clerical posts and costs reduced by 40%
- reducing all service budgets (except Schools and Social Services) by 30% - some even as far as 45%
- office accommodation reduced by 20%
- disposal of two large office buildings
- two of the four office blocks at County Hall now empty
- merging six depots into one new and more efficient facility at Alltami
- sharing buildings with partners such as North Wales Police in Holywell and Flint
- saving money in the way we buy and operate Council vehicles
- changing the way we provide services - Aura Leisure and Libraries, a new company created and run by former Council employees
- NEWydd - a wholly Council owned trading company providing cleaning and catering services
- working with local communities where there has been interest to take on and run local services, e.g. Cambrian Aquatics at Connah's Quay swimming pool and Holywell Leisure Centre
- NEW Homes - a wholly Council owned trading company providing homes for local people
- SHARP (Strategic Housing and Regeneration Programme) building new Council and affordable homes
- Double Click - a new social enterprise providing social services for adults with mental health issues and learning difficulties
- integrating services with other councils in the region to share costs e.g. education
- procuring or bulk buying with other councils to get better deals e.g. computer hardware
Why can't the Council use up the money it has in reserves to help balance the books?
The Council holds back reserves – rather like savings – to cover itself against unexpected costs and emergencies.
Over the last few years, the Council has drawn on its reserves to help balance the budget. In the last three years alone £5.7m has been used from reserves to help us meet our budget gap. £1.945m of reserves has been used to balance the 2018/19 budget.
The Council doesn’t hold large reserves and like savings they can only be used once. For example while the £1.945m of reserves spent this year helped to close the budget gap for 2018/19, without additional money from elsewhere there will still be a gap of £1.945m in the budget for 2019/20 - but there won’t be the money in our reserves to pay for it.
In April 2018 Flintshire increased its Council Tax by 6.71% how was this justified?
The Council has a legal duty to set a ‘balanced annual budget’ – in other words the Council has to be certain that it will have enough money to spend for everything it needs in the year ahead. The annual budget is set in March each year.
Year after year councils like Flintshire have faced reductions in the money received by Government. The costs of supplies such as energy and fuel for buildings and vehicles are rising. Each year, more and more people need social services, which costs the Council more to deliver.
To balance its budget the Council has had no choice but to look at raising more money by charging for local services and through Council Tax.
On top of this our schools are struggling to balance their budgets. This is because of things like teachers’ pay increases, which are agreed nationally and which schools have to pay, and the rising costs of energy, supplies and equipment.
The Council would not usually increase its Council Tax over 5%, but given the pressures on our schools a 1.71% supplement on Council Tax was charged in April 2018 to raise an additional £1.14m for schools.
Even with this increase, the Council Tax residents in Flintshire pay, is still around the average charged across Wales and is considerably lower than neighbouring English counties.
Does Flintshire charge a high Council Tax compared to other Welsh councils?
The Council Tax set by Flintshire County Council is not high compared to other Welsh Councils.
Flintshire County Council increased Council Tax by 6.71% in April 2018 yet the average local Band D charge of £1,177.60 was still around £41 lower than the Welsh average.
Does Flintshire charge a high Council Tax compared to other English Councils?
The Council Tax set by Flintshire County Council is not high compared to other English Councils.
The 6.71% increase applied in April 2018 may have be higher than the ‘percentage’ increase applied by our neighbouring English councils. However in real terms Flintshire’s local Band D charge of £1,177.60 was still £236 lower than the average Band D charge across our near neighbours of Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Wirral, Halton, Knowsley and Shropshire.
What does my Council Tax pay for?
Council Tax is a local tax collected by councils in Wales and is based on the value of domestic property as set by the Valuation Office Agency.
Your Council Tax bill is made up of three separate charges – the charge being made by Flintshire County Council, the charge for North Wales Police, and the charge for your local town or community council.
Council Tax raises just 25% of the money the Council needs to pay for local services. The biggest part of our income (66%) comes from Welsh Government in the form of a grant. The remaining 9% comes from the fees we charge for some services.
The Council Tax we collect is not a direct bill for the individual services provided by the Council, but is pooled together to help pay for all the services we deliver.
Council Tax payers have to pay the amount of tax due for their property and cannot ask for a reduction or discount because they, or members of their family, are at a stage in their lives where they do not use all the services provided by the Council.
Each year we provide a breakdown of where the Council's income comes from and how the money is spent. Click here for more information.
What do town and community councils do and why are they on my bill?
There are 34 town and community councils across Flintshire. They provide or maintain a range of local community services and amenities including village halls, playing fields and open spaces, public seats, bus shelters, street lighting and footpaths. In some cases they can contribute to the running cost of larger local facilities such as leisure centres and libraries.
Your Town or Community Council gets most of its money from a share of the Council Tax paid by residents living within its boundary. This is known as a Council Tax ‘precept’ and is based on your property Valuation band.
The amount of ‘precept’ charged by your Town or Community Council is shown on your overall Council Tax bill. Flintshire County Council collects all tax owed and then pays the Town or Community Council its share.
Each year the County Council publishes a list of Town and Community Council precepts. To see the list click here.
What does the Police and Crime Commissioner do and why is it on my bill?
It is the responsibility of the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales to provide an efficient and effective police service for the North Wales area. This includes working with the Police and Crime Panel to set a budget for North Wales Police. The Government provides around 75% of the funding necessary to run Police services in North Wales; the rest is raised through Council Tax. This is known as a Council Tax ‘precept’ and is based on your property Valuation band.
Flintshire, along with the other five councils in North Wales, is responsible for collecting Council Tax on behalf of the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales.
The amount of ‘precept’ charged by the Police and Crime Commissioner is shown on your overall Council Tax bill. Flintshire County Council collects all tax owed and then pays the Police and Crime Commissioner its share.
Each year the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales publishes budget information about the spending plans of North Wales Police. Click here for more information.
Who pays for the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service?
North Wales Fire and Rescue Service protects residents, businesses and communities across the region through preventive and responsive services including home safety, fire prevention and extinguishment, and responding to road traffic collisions, and other emergencies including severe weather.
Each year, the County Council has to pay into a combined fire service fund to meet the annual costs of the Fire and Rescue Service. This is known as the annual Fire Service Levy. For 2018-19 the Council paid a levy of £7.4m.
Although there is no Council Tax ‘precept’ shown on your bill for North Wales Fire and Rescue Service - part of the Council Tax you pay helps the Council fund the fire and rescue service.
North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority is also under pressure from increasing costs and it is expected that in 2019/20 North Wales Councils will need to contribute more to its budget to help it balance its books. For Flintshire this could be between £300,000 and £400,000. If this extra cost was to be added to Council Tax bills, based on an average Band D property, householders in Flintshire would contribute between £4.50 and £6.50 extra per year to the Fire and Rescue Authority to provide essential local services.
Click here for more information about North Wales Fire and Rescue and the role of the Fire Authority.
What can I do if I can't afford to pay Council Tax?
Council Tax payers on a low income, in receipt of welfare benefits including Universal Credit, may be entitled to some help towards paying Council Tax. This is called the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS). To see if you can get any help click here to use our benefits calculator.
If, having used the benefits calculator, you believe you may qualify, you can click here to submit an ‘on-line’ application for CTRS.
To help Council Tax payers budget around monthly payments, the Council can also offer instalments over 12 months instead of 10, or as many months that remain in the year up to March 2019. If you want to change your method of payment or set up payments over 12 months, you can get in touch with the Council Tax team. Email: email@example.com Tel. 01352 704848.
Am I being asked to pay more for less?
Council Tax payers are being asked to make a bigger financial contribution to protect local services and compensate for reductions in Government funding.
Flintshire has been successful in protecting and even growing some local services despite having to reduce the money it spends over many years of national austerity.
So, the answer is that you are paying more for the same and, in some service areas such as social care, are paying more for more.
Will there be another big rise in Council Tax in April 2019?
The levels of Council Tax we need to set in future years - from 2019/20 onwards - will very much depend on:
- the position UK Government decides to take on funding public services
- how much of its overall budget, Welsh Government decides to pass on to local councils
- the decisions of central and Welsh governments to fully fund national agreements like Teachers’ pay and pensions
The more money local councils receive, the less likely it is we will see high rises in Council Tax.
Flintshire has not yet set Council Tax levels for 2019-20 onwards.
Why doesn't the Council ask central government for extra funding rather than putting up Council Tax?
Flintshire is an active member of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA). The WLGA represents county councils, the national park authorities and the fire and rescue authorities in Wales. The Association is a vocal campaigner for fair funding for councils and other public services.
Welsh Government is holding some large funds which it could pass out to councils now to ease the chronic financial situation. Together Welsh councils have made a compelling case for this money which we call our ‘ask’.
Our ‘ask’ is for:
- An extra £13M so that no council will face a reduction in their government grant – Flintshire is one of the councils at the bottom of the Welsh funding table and stands to lose £1.9m (1%) of its grant
- The extra £30M being held back for social care in Wales to be paid out to councils – this is worth £1.3m for Flintshire
- The extra £15m being held back for schools to be paid out to councils – this is worth £800,000 for Flintshire schools
- The extra £33M Wales has been given in the recent Chancellor’s budget to be paid out to councils as promised by the First Minister – this is worth £1.6m for Flintshire
We are asking Welsh Government to #BacktheAsk for £5.6m more funding for Flintshire.
If our ‘ask’ is backed by Welsh Government in full, then we can protect local services and keep Council Tax down.
Even with the ‘ask’ we could be looking at a Council Tax rise of 7%.
If we are given nothing, then we would either have to close local services or ask the public to foot a far higher Council Tax bill.
Why did you introduce charging for green waste to be collected?
Unlike household waste the Council does not have a duty have to collect garden waste. We provide this service at our discretion and to meet demand. Not all residents need or use the service.
This is a popular service and one which we will continue to provide, however, we can no longer afford to provide it free of charge.
The annual charge of £30 (or 58p a week) has raised over £900,000 since it was introduced in April 2018. This is money the Council has been able to reinvest into other services.
You do not have to subscribe to the service and only need to pay if you choose to subscribe. If you prefer you can take your garden waste to your nearest Household Recycling Centre free of charge or if you have the space you can compost at home.
If you’ve not yet subscribed but you would like us to collect your garden waste for an annual charge of £30 click here
to find out how to sign up for the service or call 01352 701234. We can also offer advice on how to go about home composting.
Why will you fine me £75 if I leave 'side waste' out with by black bin collection?
Wales is one of the top performing Countries for recycling in the world and Flintshire residents are already recycling an impressive 68% of the County’s waste.
Welsh Government have set strict targets over the amount of waste we can send to landfill. By 2025 we need to be recycling 70% of our household waste. If we fail to hit these targets we could face big fines.
The more that people recycle, the less waste needs to go into the black bin. There is no need for waste to be left out on the ‘side’.
There are still people who recycle little or nothing at all. Everyone needs to play their part. We cannot afford to waste money on Government fines when it could be better used to fund essential local services. Click here for more information about waste and recycling.
Why have you increased / introduced car parking charges?
Car parking charges in Flintshire are amongst the lowest in the country.
Every year the Council spends £900,000 running and maintaining its car parks. The prices we have set will provide full cost recovery, saving the Council £900,000 which can be spent on other services.
Our charges are still low compared to neighbouring and other councils.
Why am I charged Council Tax to help support services I don't use?
Your Council Tax contributes to the full range of services we provide, other than Council Housing which is paid for by Council tenants through their rent.
Council Tax payers have to pay the amount of tax due for their property and cannot ask for a reduction or discount because they, or members of their family, are at a stage in their lives where they do not use all the services the Council provides.
Education and social care are examples of services which councils provide as an extension of the Welfare State. We all make our contribution to funding them.
The Council has outsourced some services like libraries and leisure centres, so why are we still paying for them?
Over the past 11 years the Council has saved £85m whilst protecting, wherever possible, those services which residents and communities highly value.
One of the ways we have done this is through the creation of a brand new social enterprise, Aura Wales, to deliver high quality and sustainable leisure, library and museum services.
By taking these services out of the direct management of the Council, we have adopted an entrepreneurial approach that is responsive to the commercial demands of the market.
The Council continues to financially support these services by means of an annual grant, which will reduce over time as the company becomes more financially self-sufficient and through specific programmes of investment, most recently £1.4m for Mold Leisure Centre. This continued support is helping to keep leisure and library services open. If the Council stopped or reduced the amount of support it provides, services would need to close.
As the Council continues to manage difficult budget decisions, Aura Wales offers a full range of non-discounted services, protecting local services for local people. Please visit www.Aura.Wales to see the full range of membership options and special promotions on offer.
Your Council Tax contributes to the full range of services we provide, other than Council Housing which is paid for by Council tenants through their rent.
Council Tax payers have to pay the amount of tax due for their property and cannot ask for a reduction or discount because they, or members of their family, are at a stage in their lives where they do not use all the services the Council provides or where the Council has taken steps to protect services by delivering them in a different way..
What do you mean by ‘savings’?
When we use the term ‘savings’, we are talking about the different ways of finding solutions to bridge the budget gap. These can include things like:
- being more efficient and 'saving' money
- being more entrepreneurial in the way we do things
- reducing the amount of money services are given to spend
- increasing the amount of money we have to spend by charging for some services
By doing things differently we can 'save' the council money and keep services running.
Why doesn't the Council move out of County Hall and use smaller and less expensive office accommodation?
Since 2011 we have reduced the total area of our office accommodation by 20%. We have disposed of two office buildings. Six depots have been merged into one main facility at Alltami. We have made best use of the space in our office buildings by working differently, in a more agile and mobile way.
Two of the four office blocks at County Hall, Mold are empty and we are in the process of drawing up plans for demolition.