THE Vale of Glamorgan Council had a surplus of £5.8m last year – after asking people to pay more council tax.

The council over-collected £1.7m in council tax in 2018 to 2019 after residents were asked to pay 3.9 per cent more in rates.

It was part of a £5,836,000 surplus the council made from its day-to-day spending last year – which was transferred to the council’s reserves.

Vale residents have been asked to pay an additional 4.9 per cent on their council tax rates this current year.

Councillor Ian Johnson, Plaid Cymru group leader, told a full council meeting on September 9 the council tax surplus was “a lot of money taken out of other people’s pockets”.

He said: “Austerity? What austerity?

“There is a question of whether we are making more cuts than we need to and whether we are increasing council tax more than we need to.

“When this council has a very good bank balance and is in the black – what’s happened to allow that? Is that because we’ve cut too far? Is that because we’re collecting too much money?”

Council leader Neil Moore said it was better to collect too much council tax than too little.

He said: “It’s a fact that we are a prudent authority, we always have been a prudent authority.

“We have to make sure we have enough money in the account.

“Yes it’s good to collect more but, I tell you what, it would be worse to collect less.”

While the council's statement of accounts says the council has usable reserves of £105,148,000, Cllr Moore said in a later statement that usable reserves were actually around £77m, the vast majority of which are set aside for specific planned projects.

This includes money in the Capital Receipts Reserve and the Capital Grant Unapplied Account, available to fund capital schemes only and not revenue schemes.

The funding held in the Housing Revenue Account can be used to fund spend on council housing only and is not available to fund other services, while the earmarked reserves have been earmarked to fund necessary future expenditure.

After these deductions, a council spokesman said unallocated reserves were actually around £13,636.

Cllr Moore said: “To suggest that the council made a profit on the back of ‘collecting too much council tax’ is also completely inaccurate. The council has saved over £55m in the last eight years, which represents almost 25 per cent of our total budget.

“It is impossible to ignore the fact that Brexit will cause issues, something Cllr Johnson has agreed with in the past. We will need contingency reserves for any unexpected increases in supplies and services that will surely become a reality if we leave the EU.

“Cllr Johnson is being irresponsible in attacking what is a well-run and prudent council. However I expect nothing more from him and his politically-motivated attacks.

“The pressure to save continues and this has to be balanced against a desire to protect local services for the benefit of all communities and residents in the Vale of Glamorgan.  To do this we must be efficient in how we use money, how we collect council tax, and how we manage our reserves.

“Managing our reserves efficiently is fundamental for many reasons, not least given the continuing and rising demand on education and social care budgets. I make no apology for wanting to give children the best possible education and ensuring that those that are vulnerable have the support that they need.

“The reserves that Cllr Johnson criticises are there to fund significant pressures in key services but, in the main, they will enable us to fund a significant and ambitious school-building programme that will see new secondary and primary schools constructed across the Vale over the next few years.

“Cllr Johnson criticises our council tax levels but these are well below the Welsh average, whilst the council continues to outperform the other 21 authorities across a range of performance indicators relating to key services. To maintain such high levels of performance alongside managing significant pressures and savings targets has not been easy but is firm evidence of the efficient manner in which this council manages its budgets.”

Cllr Johnson replied:  “Cllr Moore is arguing against the findings of the statement of accounts agreed by the Wales Audit Office, the Audit Committee, and full council.

“They show that the Vale made an in-year profit of £5.8m, increased council tax take by almost £5m, and the useable reserves increased from £92m to £105m, up 13.5 per cent.

“Reserves are supposed to be there for a rainy day so how have the Vale’s bank balances got higher and higher during almost a decade of austerity?

“Plaid Cymru will continue to scrutinise the council’s performance, based on the evidence of our officers, and do what’s right for the Vale.

“Cllr Moore appears upset that Plaid Cymru, who beat both Labour and the Conservatives in the recent European election in the Vale, are doing the job of holding the council leader to account.”