Claims Pembrokeshire councillors are being ‘strong-armed’ into backing a budget, which includes a 16.3 per cent council tax rise, have been denied by the County Council.

It is recommended the council tax rate in Pembrokeshire increases by 16.3 per cent, which would add nearly £220 to the average bill.

The actual decision will be made at full council’s March 7 meeting.

National campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which has been campaigning against the proposed rise, says that, in an email sent to all councillors they have been sent warning about voting against the budget.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance says the email warned “it would be unlawful” to vote against the budget, and that “wilfully or recklessly failing to set a budget would be contrary to the principles of public life set out in the constitution – particularly the principle of stewardship, and would undoubtedly bring the council into disrepute; which is a code of conduct issue”.

Elliot Keck, head of campaigns at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is deeply concerning to see councillors receive such intense pressure from council officials., who do not have to answer to voters.

“The council is proposing a record-breaking tax hike which will deal a devastating blow to household finances.

“Councillors should feel free to vote according to what they think is right.”

One of those expressing concern was veteran independent county councillor, and ‘Old Grumpy’ blogger, Councillor Mike Stoddart.

Milford Hakin councillor Mike Stoddart said: “Trying to strong-arm elected members into approving this massive council tax increase against their better judgement was likely to be counterproductive.

Mike Stoddart
One of those expressing concern was veteran independent county councillor, and ‘Old Grumpy’ blogger, Councillor Mike Stoddart. (PCC)

“For myself, I will do what I think is right by my constituents, and no amount of threats will divert me from that path.”

A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesperson said: “There was no intention to pressure councillors into voting a certain way.

“The intention behind the correspondence, which was sent several weeks ago, was to encourage any members who may not be supportive of the proposals put forward by Cabinet, to bring their own alternative proposals, which could then be properly considered prior to council on March 7.

“The council is under a legal obligation to set a balanced budget and members cannot simply vote against all the proposals in front of them without being prepared to be proactive in trying to set that budget.

“To emphasise this, for 2024-25, Pembrokeshire County Council is facing additional demand pressures in statutory services (adult and children’s social care, homelessness and education).

“This means we need an extra £17m to provide for this demand next year – this alone is equivalent to an increase of over 26 per cent on council tax. Additionally we face inflationary pressures of £22.8m.

“Our funding gap, after the AEF money we’ll receive from Welsh Government, is £31.9m.

“We are legally required to balance our budget – to match the amount of money coming in against what we spend to provide services. We are planning to make savings on our spending of £12.2m, as well as utilising some council tax premiums to contribute to elements of the budget in respect of affordable housing and enhancing the sustainability of local communities.

“This has allowed us to limit the council tax rise to 16.31 per cent. This weighs up the need to limit council tax rises on residents against the need to preserve services used by many of the most vulnerable people in the county.

“The demand pressures, particularly in social care, are affecting all councils in Wales, but particularly Pembrokeshire. Based on current information, we expect Pembrokeshire to still have one of the lowest council tax levels – probably 18th out of the 22 Welsh local authorities.”

The county had faced the possibility of even higher increases, of 18.94 per cent, and an eye-watering 20.98 per cent, before Cabinet members backed the 16.3 per cent rate last month, which is now recommended for full council on March 7.

Neighbouring Ceredigion backed an 11.1 per cent council tax rise last week.