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WELSH WRANGLE OVER PLANS TO CHANGE GRANT FORMULA

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Political fighting between Welsh local authorities reached a peak this week over proposed changes to the Welsh gran...
Political fighting between Welsh local authorities reached a peak this week over proposed changes to the Welsh grant distribution formula, which will hit poorest valley councils the hardest.

A meeting of 20 council leaders on Monday failed to reach agreement on a compromise proposal. It was later described by one member as 'one of the most acrimonious' he could remember.

Local authority leaders now hope to minimise the effects of the formula changes by getting the government to make adjustments to council capping limits and to introduce a new damping scheme.

A series of meetings between local government and the Welsh Office has been put in place in an attempt to solve the problem before a consultative council meeting with Welsh secretary Ron Davies on 27 October.

Noel Crowley, leader of Neath Port Talbot CBC and newly elected vice-chairman of the Welsh Local Government Association, warned publicly of 'open rebellion' if the formula changes, which would lead to£2.5 million cuts in his area, went ahead without revision.

Other councils worst affected by the new formula, devised to ease the funding difficulties resulting from Welsh local government reorganisation, are Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taff CBCs.

Gainers include Flintshire to the tune of£5.1m - ironically under the leadership of the new WLGA chairman Tom Middlehurst.

Steve Dunster, head of finance at the WLGA, acknowledged the political difficulties faced by the association. 'If you move one piece, you get an equal and opposite effect somewhere else,' he said.

Rhondda Cynon Taff, no longer a member of the WLGA, had its own meeting with the Welsh Office this week to learn of the proposed distribution changes.

Steve Perry, the council's director of finance, said the council, which has the second highest council tax in Wales, already faces a 15% tax rise when the current damping mechanism is removed.

Distribution changes would lead to another 12%-15% increase. 'There's the prospect of 25%-30% increases in council tax which are nothing to do with service provision,' he said. 'From the public's point of view, what have they done to deserve that?'

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