Ceredigion County Council’s leader has said that the council “would be criticised by the press” no matter what they did as Plaid Cymru councillors signed off on a council tax hike of more than 11 per cent, slashes to services and fee hikes in a bid to plug a black hole in council finances for 2024/25 of more than £18 million despite the best efforts of opposition members.

At a full council meeting on 29 February, councillors signed off the draft budget for Ceredigion for 2024/25.

A 11.1 per cent rise in council tax, a limit on black bags, charging for parking on Aberystwyth promenade, cuts to services, job losses and fees hikes for amenities including public toilets were all approved by a majority of councillors for April.

Councillors from the Liberal Democrat and Independent groups, along with Gwyn Wigley Evans of Gwlad and Carl Worrall from Plaid Cymru all voted against elements of the budget including the council tax rise due to fears over its deliverability and effect on residents, but the votes of remaining Plaid Cymru members meant the full budget was voted through 20 to 16.

Leader of the council Cllr Bryan Davies told members at the meeting: “We have very difficult decisions to make.

“Unfortunately the situation hasn’t changed much in the last few weeks, and there are huge challenges ahead of us.

“It is quite a storm.

“These decisions are going to affect everyone.

“It is going to affect the residents of Ceredigion unfortunately.

“We are going to be criticised in the press anyway, so we have to think with our heads not our hearts.

“We are doing the best we can with the settlement we have.”

Chief executive Eifion Evans told members that with £18m of savings needing to be found, that “everything had to be on the table” in terms of cuts.

Duncan Hall, corporate lead director for finance at Ceredigion County Council, warned that the outlook for the future was still “bleak.”

“There is a challenge coming down the track that in many ways will be even more challenging,” he said.

Elizabeth Evans, Liberal Democrat group leader said: “This is a Plaid Cymru budget and residents will focus on the fact that their council tax is increasing and services are diminishing.

“Nobody should underestimate the desire to provide services.

“The settlement from the Welsh Government is overbearingly poor.

“If we are struggling financially, then are residents are doubly so.

“We cannot continue as we are.

“I do not like the uncertainty and risk of having further in year cuts if some of these savings can’t be achieved.”

Cllr Rhodri Evans told member: “My concern is that some of these cuts are far-reaching.

“There is poverty and people struggling financially in Ceredigion.

Penparcau councillor Carl Worrall said: “I have concerns over the effect that a council tax rise will have on already struggling residents.

“At the end of the day, this is hitting people.

“We have people out there struggling and I want to speak out for them.”

Council chair Maldwyn Lewis said Ceredigion should be “proud to be able to achieve a balanced budget”, amid the current economic climate.

A report put before members said councillors “have had to face incredibly difficult and unpalatable budget choices as part of weighing up how and where to reduce the cost of council services, alongside considering the appropriate level of funding to be raised through Council Tax.”

“Balancing the budget scales has been an unenviable task,” the report said.

Canolfan Rheidol
Lights are on at Canolfan Rheidol (Cambrian News)

Ewan Lawry, the founder of the Ceredigion Residents Action Group (CRAG) — a grassroots organisation set up to seek reforms and rein in waste at the council, told the Cambrian News: “It’s hard to imagine a budget that could be more devastating for Ceredigion at a time when so many of us have already perilous finances. A ‘left-behind’ county is now paying the price for political failure.”

Mr Lawry told the newspaper: “We know that services cost more to deliver in rural areas and that central government funding is a challenge for local authorities, but can anyone seriously say, hand on heart, that Ceredigion County Council is spending our tax money efficiently and intelligently?

“Why do they still have those big, empty offices if all the staff can work from home?

“Have the councillors bothered to ask how people who are already just about managing will pay this increase?”

The CRAG founder said Ceredigion now has the classic ‘fewer services, more money’ formula from a council that is not very good at service delivery and keeps putting up council tax successively.

“Added to the genuine fear that many feel at this announcement is bewilderment as to why Pembrokeshire, with its similar geography and demographics and has historically kept its council tax low, will STILL be cheaper despite a 1 per cent increase,” Mr Lawry said.

“Combine this with the other measures and you have the perfect storm,” he told the Cambrian News.

“The last thing Aberystwyth businesses need is more of a deterrent to people spending money locally, but that is exactly what parking charges on the seafront will do — that is if visitors still want to come to our largest and, sadly, shabbiest town which is already messy on bin collection day.

“Imagine Aberystwyth once people are forced to find alternatives because they have too many bin bags — that is if the binmen are expected to count the bags, determine if a property is a HMO, and which rubbish comes from which house when it is in communal areas.

“If this all sounds insane, it’s probably because it is another daft idea from Ceredigion County Council. And that’s before the town/community councils announce the inevitable precept rises.

“Given Aberystwyth Town Council is splashing cash on the old St Winifride’s — despite the old town hall now being a library that will have to ‘co-locate’ with other council services — it is unlikely that they will be any more financially prudent.

Part of the problem is clearly that one party dominates Ceredigion politics at every level. Who do we turn to? Ben Lake and Elin Jones? Not when they are, predictably, absent when their party colleagues are making these decisions,” Mr Lawry said.

“The councillors themselves will just blame Welsh Government, which makes a nice change from blaming Eifion Evans and the civil servants.

“It’s a pity that Ben Lake and Elin Jones didn’t lobby their colleagues in the Senedd to include a fairer funding deal for rural areas in the Plaid-Labour co-operation agreement.”

CRAG is formulating plans to nominate a slate of candidates in the next local elections in Ceredigion.

“We really are poorly served by people who claim to love this county,” the CRAG founder told the Cambrian News.

“Please let this be the time when Ceredigion decides it deserves better than the whole lot of them and gets some decent representatives who will fight for our county. In the meantime, the CRAG will make its mission to hold these politicians to account and scrutinise their decisions so that they can no longer take taxpayers for granted,” he said.