Expectations Outrun Council Cash
Snippets from Carmarthenshire County Council’s annual accounts for 2011-12
Council tax a drop in the ocean
Carmarthenshire has 78,800 households, according to preliminary data from the 2011 census. Income from council tax works out to £1,050 per household, on average. That’s nowhere near enough to fund a modern local authority. Carmarthenshire’s net spending on services in 2011-12 was £313.354 million: compare that with the £82.644 million collected in council tax. Just as well that the majority of the council’s income comes from the Revenue Support Grant, supplied by central government! Indeed, the emoluments received by the chief executive alone, £209,498, represent £1 in every £400 paid in council tax.
Housing benefit payments to tenants were equivalent to over 75% of the receipts from council tax , £63.018 million against £82.644 million. Housing benefit, or local housing allowance as it has been renamed, is funded by national government and not by local authorities, fortunately for Carmarthenshire. Housing benefits have ballooned as wages have lagged behind housing costs, a gap that is refusing to narrow with any speed.
Councils are under severe pressure from the austerity Coalition to slash their costs, but we still expect plentiful and high quality services. Have we reached the point at which our expectations of council services outrun our capacity to pay for them? We are pretty close, I think.
Pensions in a hole
Deficit in council’s pension scheme, £225.924 million.
This is a defined-benefit local government pension scheme, the final pension depending on the employee’s salary at retirement and on how many years’ service they clocked up. Quite a hole.
Deficit on trading activities, £9.785 million.
This large deficit, almost £10 million, appeared under the heading ‘Reconciliation of departmental income and expenditure’.
Earmarked reserves for emergency winter maintenance, nil.
The erosion of reserves for winter maintenance followed the exceptionally severe winters of 2008-09 and 2009-10. There was £250,000 in the pot at April 1st 2010, £150,000 a year later, nothing at March 31st 2012.
Here’s hoping for a mild winter.