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WLGA FEARS SERVICE CUTS DESPITE CASH RISE

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Next year's above-inflation spending settlement for Wales is still likely to lead to cuts in services such as leisu...
Next year's above-inflation spending settlement for Wales is still likely to lead to cuts in services such as leisure and transport in some councils, the Welsh Local Government Association has warned Welsh secretary Alun Michael.

The 5.2% average rise in Welsh standard spending assessments for 1999-2000 masks some sharp variations between the 22 councils, according to new government figures.

Isle of Anglesey CC, for example, has a 3.5% rise in SSA and Blaenau Gwent CBC 3.6%, compared with a 6.8% rise for Cardiff CC.

'Obviously councils will spend in line with the government's priorities, putting education and social services first. In some councils there is going to be unavoidable damage to other services which come a poor third,' said Steve Dunster, head of finance at the WLGA.

David Elis-Williams, director of finance at Isle of Anglesey, confirmed the outlook for some services was 'fairly grim at the moment'.

Harry Jones, leader of the WLGA and of Newport CBC - which also suffered a below-average rise in SSA - told Mr Michael that the WLGA welcomed next year's settlement 'on the whole'.

As well as above-inflation rises, Welsh councils have been given more scope to increase budgets and council tax levels than their English counterparts.

Under the new Welsh council tax benefit system, councils will be able to increase budgets by 5.9%, which equates to an average 7.2% rise in Band D council tax, before subsidies are clawed back.

Mr Dunster said that in Wales, where gearing is much steeper than in England, some councils could be looking at council tax rises of above 10% if they spend up to the guideline budget figure.

Chris Bettinson, finance chair at Cardiff CC, welcomed 'a recognition of the needs of local government for the first time really since the 1980s'.

He added that he would not be proposing any cuts in services and predicted a council tax rise of under 5%, possibly even under 4%.

'Given rises in the past three years of 25%, 15% and just over 10%, that is absolutely unheard of,' said Mr Bettinson.

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