The final approval has been given to Pembrokeshire's draft budget and council tax rise despite a call from one member to "not be afraid to throw it out."

Former Pembrokeshire County Council leader Cllr Jamie Adams said there were "different ways to square this circle, better opportunities to reduce the cost of services in this county than simply asking the tax payer for more money."

He said more could be saved by looking at buildings owned by the authority and questioned the efficiency of the 'smarter working' scheme within County Hall.

A funding gap of £20million will be bridged by the 2019/20 draft budget and an increase in council tax of £1.89 a week for band D properties - around 9.9 per cent or £98.55 a year.

Cuts and reductions in services will also be made with work on a service prioritisation plan to start as soon as next week, the cabinet member for finance Cllr Bob Kilmister said on Thursday (February 21).

This includes scrapping customer contact centres for a different way of providing the services.

Cllr Phil Kidney said this risked "disenfranchising" many residents.

Another former leader, Cllr John Davies, also said he didn't back the budget over concerns over council tax increase impacts on residents.

He said the current administration had increased taxes more in two years than the previous administration did in a decade.

Cllr Davies added that income was underestimated by £11million last year and that this budget was "increasing the council's capacity to spend in terms of revenue."

More money will be given for school improvement, Cllr Kilmister said, through four eduction projects - £100,000 for raising standards at key stage three and four; £300,000 for supporting significant improvements in secondary schools; £100,000 for IT and LSA equipment and supporting pupils eligible for free school meals will get £100,000 funding.

He hit back at Cllr Davies' claims that income estimates could be increased and that choosing a reduced council tax option did not mean extra funding for schools would be lost.

"Your're asking me to put income in that we don't know we will receive, "We can only budget on the information we have and to do anything else is sheer and utter recklessness," said Cllr Kilmister.

After nearly a two hour debate, which included side-swipes at previous administrations' handling of situations such as house building and other assets, the councillors voted in favour of the budget including a council tax rise.

There were 21 votes against, the majority of which were from independent plus group and Conservative group members, and 37 for the draft budget.

Cllr Bob Kilmister's budget speech in full: 

Budget Speech 2019.

My first task today is to thank all the Officers who have put a huge amount of work into preparing this budget.  I cannot thank you all by name but everyone involved in this process has my sincere thanks.  The effort and commitment shown has been superb and on behalf of the whole Cabinet we are truly grateful for the work you have done.

If you compare what we have asked them to do for the last two years with the budget process in 2017/18 then maybe you start to understand the journey this Council has been on recently.  This administration has increased the time for consideration by members and the public by 20 working days or 44%.  In addition we have worked with all scrutiny committees to ensure proper scrutiny takes place.  I  have faced over 10 hours of scrutiny this year, please compare that with the previous holders of this post who passed the role onto the Director of Finance and did not attend a single scrutiny session.

I would also like to thank the general public for the way they have approached this process. Last year I complained about the personal abuse I received on social media from a minority of keyboard warriors.  This year there has hardly been any abuse and although I know many people do not agree with me or my policies, I am heartened that a good debate has taken place without the personal animosity.  When you are an elected representative you expect challenge, scrutiny and disagreement - that is part of your role but when individuals cross that line and it just becomes a personal attack we need to draw the line. So a big thank you from me.

Our public consultation responses this year were lower because we did not write to every home but were in line with previous years, with just over 500 responses. In addition we carried out 3 Facebook Live sessions, two of which were in the formal consultation period. These had the following results.

7 - 8pm, Tuesday 4th December

This session reached 8,500 Facebook users, and was viewed by 5,200.

A total of 211 comments were received, 112 user reactions and 10 shared to other pages.

7 - 8pm, Monday 7th January

This session reached 4,569 Facebook users and was viewed by 3,200.

A total of 113 comments were received, with 112 user reactions and 39 shares to other pages.

7 - 8pm, Wednesday 16th January

This session reached 6,635 Facebook users and was viewed by 3,700.

A total of 84 comments were received, with 34 user reactions and 20 shares to other pages.

The question & answer session at the Archives was not attended by a single person and two sessions at the Library only had 6 members of the public asking questions in 4 hours. The last session was cancelled but 3 further people showed up and I left a meeting with the WAO to speak with them.  Consulting with nine people in 5 hours cannot be described as worthwhile.  In addition following requests from Councillors I attended meetings in Llanteg and Narberth

I would welcome feedback from the public and in particular members about what we did well and what we can improve on next year.  Face to face meetings are a requirement of the legislation.  Clearly we need to find a different model to engage face to face and that will form a key part of my communications review.  We can constantly improve and I am committed to doing so.

We held three budget seminars for members and attendance for the second one was the highest ever recorded.  I am very proud of the way I have fronted up over the last two years and whilst not everything has always gone exactly to plan, I think those members of the public and Councillors who have participated are much better informed than ever before.

Consultation is seen by some as a waste of time.  They believe we have already made our minds up and will go ahead no matter what they say.  I cannot deny there is an element of truth in this because before we consult we have to have detailed plans.  Consultation is not however a local referendum but an opportunity to make Councillors aware of relevant information so they can make an informed decision.  It is your job as Councillors to give appropriate weight to those views when you make your decisions. The very detailed report is produced on page 338.

Following this consultation and scrutiny Cabinet has made several alterations to the draft proposals presented to you on 13/12/18.  These relate to the funding of Citizens Advice Bureau, which will remain at £116,137 and be funded through revenue.  It is my intention to work with scrutiny and CAB to draw up a service level agreement by this time next year.  We also allocated £50,000 for continued Youth Club Provision until we can find an alternative sustainable model. This was recommended by the schools and learning overview & scrutiny committee. We also increased the delegated schools budget following substantial public responses by just over £1.5 million. This was from an extra £1 million which had originally been allocated to education redundancies and £535,000 received from Welsh Government to fund next years pay award above 1%. In addition we have allocated £600,000 to 4 key areas to improve our performance. These are:

1.        Raising standards in Key Stage 3 and 4  (£100,000)

2.        Supporting Secondary schools in Significant Improvement (300,000)

3.        Supporting an IT strategy for schools (basically the SLA/equipment) £100,000

4.        Supporting pupils entitled to free school meals (£100,000)

These funds will be managed by the local authority and monitored by the Education Performance Board which has political representation from the Chair of our scrutiny and the cabinet member. The projects will be managed through a project management process and be subject to scrutiny by Cabinet to provide assurance of impact.

Finally we increased the historic buildings maintenance budget from £4,000 a year to £61,000. Historic buildings maintenance is an area where I have grave concerns and these are shared by the SAM group. The extra £57,000 is just the equivalent of a small sticking plaster and certainly not the solution.  Long term under funding has left a catalogue of problems that need dealing with at a time when funds have never been tighter.

All these changes I have just outlined have been incorporated into the budget you see today following Cabinet resolutions.

We also amended the plans for Tenby TIC and our Customer Service centres and these are shown as recommendations today.  I think this proves that we do listen during the consultation process where strong arguments are made.

I have said many times that this job is a poisoned chalice.  Whatever I recommend to members is bound to be very unpopular with many.  There are no easy options left and I think every Cabinet member for Finance across the UK - whatever their political complexion faces exactly the same challenge.

Isaid that I am determined to do what I think is right - not what is popular.  I am only too aware that facing my electorate at the moment would be a very difficult challenge. I am determined to do what is right and so I accept that might have personal consequences for me in the future.

When I took up this role in May 2017 the Council had a variance to the Welsh Governments Standing Spending Assessment of £14.8 million.  If today the recommendation on Council Tax is approved that gap will drop to £10.268 million. That is an improving position of 30% but it still leaves us over £10 million short of the funding Welsh Government say we require to deliver services.  We must as a result be the most efficient Council in Wales, as we provide services at a lower cost than any other Authority whilst having some of the best services.  Yes, Council Tax has gone up a lot on my watch but it is still cheaper in Pembrokeshire than any other Local Authority in Wales.

I am very aware that this places an increased burden and many who fit into the category of JUST ABOUT MANAGING or the WORKING POOR.

If we cut even more services - then we would also hit this section of society most. The majority in this category are families or pensioners on a fixed income.

If we reduce our education funding will their children be affected? 

If we cut Youth Club provision will they be affected?

If we cut CAB funding will they be affected? 

If we charge for travel to school and college for those over 16 as every other Welsh Authority does will they be affected?

If we don’t try to regenerate the economy will they be affected?

If we lower the standard of our excellent Adult Social Care provision will they be affected?

2,000 individuals currently receive provision through reablement, home care and direct payments. Over 680 people use our day care services and another 900 are in residential or nursing care homes. Will they be affected?

Our leisure centres attract around 1.3 million visits a year and are open 95 hours a week. 3,000 children a week learn to swim, would reducing these services affect them?

Safeguarding and supporting 1,700 of the most vulnerable children in our County. This County knows only too well the risks here.

We carry out 7 million collections of refuse from 61,000 households, carry out 1,500 food safety inspections and ensure public health regulations are carried out across the County - would reducing these services affect them?

Asking for an additional £1.89 a week in Council Tax for a Band D property avoids those outcomes but of course we are not the only ones asking for more.  The Police are asking for a higher percentage rise than we are and many Town & Community Councils are also increasing their precepts.

Much has been said recently about Council Tax payers paying more and getting less.   It is impossible in my view to dispute this statement and it is true for every Local Authority in Wales and probably the UK too.

It is a fact and it is also a fact that this is caused by Austerity and a huge cut in funding over many years to Local Government, whilst demand for our services has actually increased.

Demand for Adult Social Care continues to rise and it is a long time before that is forecast to change. Numbers of looked after Children and those needing SEN provision continues to rise at alarming rates.

Welsh Government have given us an extra 215k over last years total budget to deal with all this whilst inflationary pressures often negotiated by government have risen substantially.

To put it in context one child coming into the Authority with complex needs can increase our expenditure by an average of £250,000. This year we have faced an increased bill just in this sector of over £1 million more than was projected.  These are statutory requirements and cannot be controlled.

If anyone can predict what will happen with Brexit I would like to borrow their crystal ball.  We have allocated £1 million as a contingency this year to cover this issue but In reality we have no idea if this will be sufficient.

I have to confess that at times I feel like King Canute attempting to stop the tide coming in.

I can imagine many at this point saying  - he just blames decisions made in the past and politicians working in other places.  Why doesn’t he do something about it instead of moaning?

I don’t disagree with that view - we have to get on and do the best we can in difficult times and hope that the cavalry will come round the corner just in time!

So what are we doing as an Administration?

This budget has actually increased Schools net expenditure and given targeted funds to the Director to improve our performance in critical areas for example Secondary school performance for our 3 targeted schools - this will facilitate the implementation of successful strategies deployed in our  higher performing secondary schools in recent years. Education is our number one priority on our Programme for Administration.  Earlier this year we were looking at real reductions to their budgets and even what is proposed here could improve if the Teachers’ Pension contributions are funded. If we receive the pension money, schools will have it pass-ported to them straight away.  We continue to build our ambitious 21st Century Schools programme and recent funding alterations by Welsh Government have helped us considerably

The administration have recognised and set as a priority the need for a house building programme to be put in place.   A Housing Development Programme Board has been created and our Housing Revenue Account Business Plan has been submitted to Welsh Government with an ambitious commitment for house building.  Several sites which are presently in the ownership of the council are identified  for house building.   We are utilising  some of our old school sites as they are ideally located for housing.  The first site that has been submitted to planning is the old Johnston School Site which will provide 30+ homes.  Other sites  that are presently part of the programme are Brynhir Tenby and Charles Street Milford Haven.  We are looking at our provision of sheltered accommodation with an intention to refurbish and where necessary rebuild so that we can provide accommodation for those older residents with a modern equipped home and suitable for their needs.    Presently two sites have been identified as priority.   The empty homes surcharge also comes into force on 1/4/19 and we hope this will reduce the current 1200 properties that are empty within our County by encouraging owners to either sell or rent.

On regeneration we have set aside funds to regenerate our Economy and have now even introduced a new Capital Programme scheme which includes a revenue cap. Previously it was vaguely worded as affordable.

In Social Care we have re-introduced an in house service and are working actively with all our partners to provide excellent care for our residents whilst containing costs. Our Children’s services have recently been praised by CIW Inspectors - compare that to the position in 2011.

Transformation, we have introduced smarter working which uses space more effectively and will allow us to substantially reduce our building numbers. Cherry Grove & Haverfordia House plus other buildings will be sold this year. We are using new technology and this will allow us to provide services in a different way and we are seeking to become cashless wherever possible as quickly as we can.  We will be pursuing this year what is termed “business process reengineering” so we can reduce bureaucracy and improve productivity.   We have made the biggest changes to working practices for this Authority since it's inception with smarter working.  We have started making significant progress with our culture change programme which has seen over a third of this chamber joining in staff engagement sessions.   With digital innovation we are seen as a leading light by UK govt for our use of SMS, and very quickly developing a reputation for being a forward thinking Authority with technology.

We have reduced our work force without costly compulsory redundancies. This year we have had a net decrease of over 100 employees and expect a higher reduction again next year due to a voluntary severance scheme. We are also going to attempt to fill most vacancies internally.  We actually now have some money allocated for this purpose where previously there was none.  Councillors, reducing numbers sounds easy but the costs can be very high both in monetary and social terms.

We have introduced the Enhancing Pembrokeshire Scheme which is unique in Wales and I believe the U.K.  We have now allocated £ 544,779 to 31 schemes in Pembrokeshire this year and we have another grant panel still to come on March 22nd.  In addition we have selected our first affordable housing site using second homes tax in Solva which we hope will deliver 18 new homes next year.

We have agreed upon a new recycling and refuse scheme which will be introduced next year and we have secured funds to contribute towards the cost of the vehicles. We have the most public toilets in Wales along with Gwynedd and have won the award for Loo of the year for the third year running.

Our roads are in far better condition than many despite the reduction in budget this service has endured over many years. We have the third highest mileage of roads in Wales to maintain with only Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire having more. We look forward to Fishguard finally getting its new road system which was promised by Welsh Government in 2003.

We continue to support the development of the Welsh Language in the county with record levels of adult learners being supported.

We are constantly looking for ways to improve productivity, and new methods of working in all Directorates.

Would I like to be making faster progress?  The answer has to be YES but there are many constraints and nobody welcomes change and that goes for Members too!  I said it last year and I will say it again the STATUS QUO is not an option any longer.

I believe we have made substantial progress and that we are in an improving financial situation but with still a great deal of work to achieve. 

Thank you for listening and I anticipate that there will be a number of questions and I will answer these as directed by the Chair.

I would like to formally move the recommendations on page 249 and 250.

In doing so the decision you make on these items will affect the next item on the agenda and leave only one option not the three that are currently listed. The decision on the Council Tax level for next year is taken on this item and not on item 14 on your agenda.

If anyone wants to amend the resolution I have just moved they will have to outline to Council how this is going to achieved.  Option 1 requires an amendment to allocate a budget reduction of £1.042.  This is 0.219 million in respect of extra savings required, and 0.823 which has been allocated to CAB, Youth Clubs, Education Initiatives and Historic Building maintenance.  The table on pages 218 and 219 makes this quite clear.