Councillor Chris Weaver, the Cabinet Member responsible for the budget. Image Credit: Mike Erskine (Cardiff Skyline) and Cardiff Council (Coun. Chris Weaver).
Councillor Chris Weaver, the Cabinet Member responsible for the budget. Image Credit: Mike Erskine (Cardiff Skyline) and Cardiff Council (Coun. Chris Weaver).

‘Welsh councils less likely to go bankrupt than English councils’, says Cardiff’s budget expert

Councillor Chris Weaver is the person tasked with balancing the books in Wales’ capital city – which faces a £30.5m deficit

WELSH councils are less likely to go bankrupt than their English counterparts because of their closer relationship to central government, says the man responsible for Cardiff Council’s budget.

Councillor Chris Weaver, the Cabinet Member for Finance, Modernisation and Performance, said the “honest relationship” and higher central funding from the Welsh Government has helped them stay afloat when some English councils are collapisng.

Birmingham City Council went bust last year due to a variety of reasons, including equal pay claims of up to £760m.

The current challenging economic situation has impacted councils across the UK. However, Welsh councils like Cardiff’s, which has to fill a £30.5m budget hole, are more resilient, according to Coun. Weaver.

“English local authorities have had central government funding cut by more,” said Coun. Weaver. 

“I think the closer relationship with the government here in Wales between local authorities and local government means that we can plan well.

We’re not in quite as bad a state as some councils are, particularly as we’ve seen [in] councils in England.”

Councillor Chris Weaver

“We do still have some resilience in our financial planning.

“We’re not in quite as bad a state as some councils are, particularly as we’ve seen [in] councils in England.”

Coun. Weaver was recently in charge of Cardiff Council’s 2024/25 budget which includes cuts to some services and a 6% council tax hike to avoid the same fate as Birmingham – which has raised council tax by 21%.

Despite receiving a higher level of central government funding than their counterparts in England, councils across Wales are still facing significant economic challenges due to increasing demand on services, inflationary pressures, the rising cost of materials for buildings and roads and the impact of Covid-19, which is still being felt.

Coun. Weaver, who joined the Labour cabinet in 2017 when Huw Thomas took over as leader, said this year has been particularly challenging as the shortfall – the £30.5m budget hole – is bigger than usual, saying: “We had to make more difficult decisions, more cutbacks.

“There have been some years where we’ve been able to find a bit of extra growth and that’s really exciting, because you’re putting extra money into things that are really going to make a difference.

“You don’t want to come into politics to activate cuts.

“It is difficult to be the person who has to put together the budget that sometimes makes for those cuts or asks people to pay more through their council tax.”

Council tax in Cardiff has increased by 6%, which is the city’s biggest increase in 20 years.

“Without raising council tax, we just wouldn’t be able to safeguard some of the services that are important to our residents,” Coun. Weaver said of the higher-than-previously-modelled hike in council tax in the new budget. 

Cardiff’s council tax is lower than in the rest of Wales, which has increased by an average of 8% in the other 21 local authorities.

The difference between the council tax in Cardiff and the rest of Wales is now the greatest it has been in the last 20 years – a difference of £215.29 per year on average for a Band D property (which is often used as the basis for working out the charge for the other bands).

The hike is also considerably lower than the 21% council tax rise in Birmingham.

 “You can see council tax is rising very rapidly in Birmingham to make up that [budget] gap,” he said.

Coun. Weaver said that Cardiff Council has had to make a lot of cuts since 2010 and that the 2024/25 budget does not just have an eye on the immediate future, saying: “When we’re setting our budget we are trying to do it to make it sustainable.”

The goal is to make sure that they can balance ther own books. When a council goes bankrup, outside experts are sent in to make the decisions. Remaining in control of the budget mean the people of Cardiff – through the consultation process which more than 9,000 residents were involved in – can decide where the money goes.

“What we’re trying to do with the choices we make is to ensure that we can always still keep making that decision for ourselves,” he said.

“We can still protect the services that matter most to people in the city and not be in that position where we almost have no choice.

“But it’s really difficult. If you ask most people involved in local authorities, across the UK: ‘Can you carry on like this for another four, five or six years?’ Most see that as an extremely bleak prospect.”

What would happen if Cardiff Council went bust?

In this hypothetical scenario the private sector and third sector would have to step in to run some services.

“There’s often a price to pay for that and sometimes [prices for] services just go up and people just get less,” said Coun. Weaver.

“We might have to ask residents to pay for services that they’ve never previously had to pay for.”

Coun. Weaver said councils can struggle to communicate with people about why difficult changes are needed. “It’s hard to get the message across about what councils actually spend the money on.

“For many people – and I understand exactly why – a lot of the visible service the council provides is around bins, street cleaning, parking and transport. What takes up the bulk of our funding is children’s services, adult services, [and] education.”

Across the UK, the demand for social services is growing. 

Coun. Weaver backed the idea of National Care Service, which the Welsh Government proposed in 2022, saying: “If you were able to find a way nationally to resolve some of those structural issues that exist in that service area, that would definitely help local authorities be able to plan on a much more sustainable basis.

“(There are) some really deep national challenges that we need governments at all levels to help address, which would probably help local authorities contain their costs, and have a much more manageable budget going forward.”

  • To read more about Cardiff Council’s 2024/25 budget follow this link