A COUNCIL tax increased agreed by councillors in Gwent has been compared to the price of half a pint of beer or three loaves of bread.

Members of Torfaen Borough Council were told the 4.95 per cent increase on a £1,477.44 council tax bill to come in from April works out at an increase of £1.41 a week.

Over the year, that increase on the charge for borough council services – which doesn’t include charges from local community councils and the police – amounts to an extra £73.13, taking a band D bill to £1,550.57.

The Labour-controlled council’s cabinet member for finance, Cllr Sue Morgan said the £234.1 million budget provides an additional £3.18 million for schools, and £462,000 towards the expansion of Cwmbran’s Crownbridge Special School, £250,000 for a school leaver employment scheme, and one-off funding to support Greenmeadow Community Farm, in Cwmbran, during its redevelopment.

She also told the meeting, at Pontypool’s Civic Centre, there would be “minimal service changes” and that adult social care will be maintained at existing levels.

The Pontnewydd councillor said: “All this is being delivered with what looks like being one of the very lowest levels of council tax increase in Wales, and it is the third year running that is the case.”

Last week Cllr Morgan told the cabinet, which recommended the budget and council tax rise for the approval of the full council, the increase was the “second joint lowest in Wales”.

Llanyrafon Labour councillor David Williams said he would support the budget.

On the band D increase, he said: “£1.41 is less than a cup of coffee or half a pint of beer depending on your language.”

But Cwmbran St Dials independent councillor Elizabeth Haynes said that would hit many families hard.

She said: “That works out at three loaves of bread, however much half a pint of beer is, for some families.

“We’ve got multiple food banks and warm spaces throughout the borough. I’m really concerned at the increase in council tax.

“I appreciate our council has one of the lowest increases proposed in Wales, which I think is very much down to officers, I’m still very concerned 4.95 per cent is a week’s bread for a family.”

Independent councillor for Abersychan Giles Davies, who resigned from the Labour group last year, also objected to the increase.

He said: “It’s described as an affordable budget, perhaps it is in our world – we are on allowances and most of us are working – but people out in the wards are really struggling and for them it’s still a rise no matter how much we dress it up.

“We are seeing more people using food banks and can’t afford to pay for electricity and gas, especially in my ward. I will be voting against the budget. We shouldn’t be putting up the council tax.”

The council has also agreed to fund a council tax reduction scheme based on 9,666 households requiring support in paying their bills.

Labour’s Panteg member Nathan Yeowell said all councillors elected on the Labour manifesto two years ago had promised to “protect services”. He said the budget situation was likely to deteriorate over the next 12 months, with the council predicting a £35.2 million shortfall in funding over the next four years as part of its medium term financial plan.

“We will have to take some very difficult decisions we have to step up to the plate and go out and talk to communities about what those protections are.”

Council leader Anthony Hunt, who also represents Panteg, said: “I would love to sit here and say we don’t need any rise (in council tax) at all. That, frankly, is not realistic it would be dishonest and if you look at councils that have tried to do that they’ve had double digit raises in subsequent years or issued Section 114 (bankruptcy) notices.”

Cllr Hunt said rises over the past three years in Torfaen amounted to £300 less than in some other councils but if the council tax, which accounts for only 16 per cent of the authority’s funding, hadn’t increased it would have had £25 million less to spend: “We would be worse off and where would that come from? From schools or social care?”

Councillors Haynes, Davies and Cllr Catherine Bonera, who also represents St Dials, were the only three members to vote against the budget.