Questions to CM Finance & Resources

Member question: Councillor C Townsend, received 12 January 2017

Subject: Budget position

The cabinet member will be aware from the cabinet meeting held 14 November 2016 that the council currently has a £936,000 surplus in the Council Tax Reduction scheme (Item 5, Revenue Budget Monitoring refers). 
Could the Cabinet Member outline:  

  1. The total budget for the scheme and the total spent for the financial years 2014 to 2015 and 2015 to 2016;
  2. The current budgetary position for the scheme as at the end of 2016 - namely the total budget and the total spent;
  3. The Labour administration’s policy of ensuring those who are entitled to pay less council tax are actively made aware of the fact;
  4. Confirm whether he is content that the council is advertising and informing residents of council tax reductions is adequate enough.
  5. Accepting that the scheme is demand responsive, the additional measures the Labour administration will undertake in the remaining three months of this current financial year to ensure the take up reflects the actual need in the city.

Response: Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS) is a statutory benefit which pays the council tax fully or partially for those residents who qualify. There is a national criteria in Wales for eligibility and there is very little discretion – if someone is eligible, it is granted at the appropriate rate.  

The funding for CTRS was previously the responsibility of Welsh Government (WG) and was a specific grant based on the value of CTRS paid out by individual councils. 

The CTRS budget was transferred into the RSG in 2013/14 from WG at the value of actual CTRS payments being made at that point. This was brought in at a point where the economy was still recovering, therefore likely to have been close to the peak in terms of CTRS payments/funding.  

Since then, we have increased the budget, like other councils, by:

  • The increase in council tax
  • Plus the anticipated number of those new homes completed each year where owners need CTRS  benefit – we calculated this as 23% of the increase in tax base each year 

The table below shows the value of budget and actual payments made since 2013/14. While the budget has increased in line with that described above, the actual payments have remained fairly steady over this period, leading to the underspends that have been reported.

Over this time, council tax itself has increased and therefore the overall steady actual costs have existed because as the economy has improved, the number of eligible claimants has decreased from the peak, when the budget was transferred to local councils.

As said, it is a national criteria with very few discretions, which we apply consistently – there is no discretion. The underspending has come about solely from the reduced number of claimants. 




Budget increase %



Actual increase %



























*2016/17 includes £300k adjustment for budget saving        

**Projected December monitoring position

For 2016/17 and proposed 2017/18 budgets, there have been savings put forward on the CTRS budget to reflect the on-going stability in the local economy and reduced costs here plus we have reduced the increased need for CTRS from new homes to 20% as that is the current value of council tax paid through CTRS. 

For 2017/18, the current projected level of underspending will not be replicated because of the proposed savings from this budget.  

However, this is a demand led budget, and a small variation in the take-up of the scheme or current claimants' personal circumstances could have a significant budget impact. Therefore, this is closely monitored for any changes in trend.

As said, there is no discretion in reviewing applications for CTRS.  Residents are made aware of the council tax reduction scheme in various ways: 

  1. Information about claiming council tax reduction (CTR) is shown on the reverse of the council tax bill.
  2. Newport City Council website contains information on CTR and links from various pages provide information on the scheme and how to apply. 
  3. All emails sent from the income collection team for example in response to emails from residents moving address have links to information on CTR and how to make a claim etc.
  4. Applications for housing benefit are automatically assessed for CTR at the same time and those claiming passported benefits such as JSA or ESA have simplified claim process for CTR.
  5. Council tax staff will raise awareness of CTR and issue a claim form to those customers that may be entitled.
  6. Contact centre staff sign post the CTR scheme if a customer indicates that they are struggling to pay etc.
  7. Social landlords e.g. Newport City Homes, Charter Housing etc all make their tenants aware of the CTR scheme.  

Given the above comprehensive information and sign-posting to the CTRS benefit, I am content that we are doing what is possible to ensure residents are made aware of it. Date issued: 26 January 2017


Member question: Councillor D Fouweather, received 18 January 2017

Subject: Apprenticeships

Can the cabinet member tell me how any apprenticeships have been created at the council since he made his decision some time ago?  

How many of those apprentices were offered full-time positions at the council? 

How many of the apprentices left before completing the course.

Response: Since the decision to create an apprenticeship scheme was taken, 15 young people have been recruited to take part in the programme and commenced work with the council in September 2016. The young people are based in all parts of the council and are covering a wide range of roles and activities to gain relevant work experience in the fields that they would like to pursue.

Given that we are only in the fifth month of their placement, we have not yet started discussions with them about their future once the apprenticeship is completed, but plans are in place to start these discussions as we go through the Spring.

Cllr Debbie Wilcox, Leader of Newport City Council and Cllr Roger Jeavons, Cabinet Member for Community Services, Work and Skills met with all apprentices to ask their views on the programme and how it could be improved. There have been two individuals who were unable to complete the course. Date issued: 20 January 2017


Member question: Councillor Chris Evans, received 2 January 2017

Subject: Budget consultation

Is the cabinet member concerned about the lack of public consultation with regards the budget proposals for 2017/18?  

Since the cabinet meeting on 21/12, there has been just one tweet from the city council informing neighbours that the consultation is now open, and just one post on Facebook, given that the ‘consultation’ closes on the 20th, does the cabinet member think this is adequate?  

Can the cabinet member confirm dates for this years ‘drop in’ sessions?

When will ‘feedback’ forms be available to councillors for distribution to neighbours?  

What consultation has been undertaken to involve neighbours who might be affected by cuts?  

Why haven’t community councils and other potentially interested parties, been connected for feedback?  

In previous years consulting openly as proved incredibly successful, why is this administration not consulting as widely this year? 


Thank you very much for the questions relating to this year’s budget consultation. I confirm that I have no concerns. As there are a number of points raised I have responded to each one in turn. 

  1. Is the cabinet member concerned about the lack of public consultation with regards the budget proposals for 2017/18?  

The budget savings proposals were agreed at the cabinet meeting on 21 December and public consultation started immediately following this meeting. It will run up to January 20 which, considering the timescales imposed on us by the receipt of our budget settlement, offers an appropriate amount of time to respond.  

A detailed communications plan will ensure almost every Newport resident is aware of the consultation, including coverage on the front page of January’s Newport Matters which will be delivered through 64,000 letterboxes reaching nearly every person in Newport.  

The council has already received responses to the consultation, which confirms people are not only aware of the consultation, but are actively engaging with it.  

The process being undertaken is very much in line with previous years, which, as you say, has proved very successful. So therefore, I am not concerned about the lack of consultation. I do though accept that we need to be challenged to get better at this on a year by year basis.  

2. Since the Cabinet meeting on 21/12, there has been just one tweet from the city council informing neighbours that the consultation is now open, and just one post on Facebook, given that the ‘consultation’ closes on the 20th, does the cabinet member think this is adequate?  

Social media is just one communications channel that the council uses to reach the population of Newport.  Not everyone in Newport has access to computer or mobile based internet services, or subscribe to social media accounts.  

Of course, the council uses Facebook and Twitter as part of its online and off-line communications, with each tweet reaching the council’s 12,400 users of this service.  

In addition to social media posts, the following has taken place:  

  • The budget consultation has been on the home page of the council’s website since the 21 December – the website has around 94,000 unique users.  
  • 64,000 copies of Newport Matters included reminders about the coming budget in the September and November editions.  
  • The residents’ e-bulletin with over 9,000 subscribers covered the budget consultation as the headline story on 22 December.      
  • The South Wales Argus, which is read in print and online by over 78,000 people, immediately covered the details of the consultation programme following cabinet in December.      
  • The extensive One Newport partner mail group were informed of the budget consultation on 22 December.  

The timing of the consultation over the Christmas period has been a challenge for several years but this is mainly a consequence of the late notification of financial settlements from Welsh Government and the resulting timescale to then agree the budget at council before the new financial year.  

3. Can the Cabinet Member confirm dates for this years ‘drop in’ sessions?

For the past few years we have undertaken engagement with residents and partners prior to the budget consultation process. This year this took the form of the ‘Your Newport’ survey work.  It covered similar questions about which services matter to people and built on previous years’ work but was branded differently (Your Newport rather than Budget Challenge) as it was focussed on wellbeing and long-term service planning. This is a response to the ways of working set out in Well-being of Future Generations Act which are now a statutory responsibility.  

For the 2017/18 budget there was a bigger ‘outreach’ approach to engagement than previously. Officers went to where local people were (such as public events) and so got a more sizeable response and spoke to more specific client groups. Officers deliberately did less ‘drop in’ sessions in areas where they had struggled to get a good number of responses in the past (e.g. Newport Market, Newport Centre), instead attending events where people were more of a captive audience (e.g. Sports in the Park, Maindee Festival etc.).  Formal consultation stage sessions (general rather than service specific) have not been undertaken for the last few years as they had been poorly attended. However, service areas will be consulting with affected parties and these sessions have been arranged, where appropriate.  

4. When will ‘feedback’ forms be available to councillors for distribution to neighbours?  

The ‘Your Newport’ survey forms were offered to all elected members on 21 September for their distribution (democratic services officers emailed members offering this service). Offering printed forms to members has not previously been part of the consultation process. However, printed copies of the formal consultation proposals can now be provided for members if requested. Members will be contacted and offered printed copies. 

If elected members have any other requirements for engagement with their constituents the policy, partnership and engagement team will endeavour to provide support. A budget presentation has been prepared to provide context and support can be provided to take notes of feedback. Members will be communicated with about this separately. 

5. What consultation has been undertaken to involve neighbours who might be affected by cuts?

The consultation and communications process is designed to engage and inform all Newport residents and key stakeholders. Where proposals affect a specific sector of the population or user group, these will be communicated with directly. If members have identified groups that should be included we will endeavour to do so.  

6. Why haven’t community councils and other potentially interested parties, been connected for feedback?  

An extensive range of potentially interested parties have been contacted through the One Newport partnership network. This will include community councils. Partners were involved extensively in the Your Newport engagement work, most notably Newport Live, Newport City Homes and GAVO. The cascade of information on the budget consultation should be at least as effective as previous years and possibly more-so as awareness has increased year on year. However, there is more work to be done with community councils.  

7. In previous years consulting openly has proved incredibly successful, why is this administration not consulting as widely this year?  

I appreciate your acknowledgement that our consultation processes have been incredibly successful and reiterate that we have continued with the same approach this year. In terms of the pre-proposal stage this has actually been more extensive than previous years and this is borne out by the highest response rate to date (over 1,700). Harder to reach groups in particular were targeted more through partner networks e.g. the Engage Project which GAVO coordinate.  More alternative languages were provided.  We encouraged community groups like Rainbow Newport (LGBT) Newport Inter-Faith Group, and BME groups to share with their networks. Issued 6 January 2017

Member question: Councillor D Fouweather

Subject: Riverfront and Dolman theatre usage

I have been informed by a leading member of a local operatic society that they are unable to use the Riverfront theatre because the council would have to compensate the Dolman for any lost revenue if that society usually performed at the Dolman? 

  1. Is this true?
  2. If so how much has been paid in compensation to the Dolman theatre by the council to date?
  3. If this is correct who was responsible for placing this restraint on the Riverfront?

Date received: 23 September 2016


  1. No
  2. Nothing
  3. There are no such constraints on the Riverfront. The management agreement and lease with the council does not place any restrictions on the use of the theatre, provided it is in accordance with the objectives of the charitable trust. Newport Live are free to allow the theatre to be used by the local operatic society, if they so wish and terms can be agreed. There is no agreement between the council and the Dolman theatre. They have an under-lease of their premises within the Kingsway Centre, but that was granted by the owners of the head-lease. Therefore, the council could not be liable to pay compensation for any loss of income.

Date issued: 6 October 2016