IT COULD be the hardest job on Pembrokeshire County Council and a “poisoned chalice” but the man tasked with setting next year’s budget in extremely difficult financial conditions says he’s “not afraid of hard work.”

The final Welsh Government settlement figures are due next week and Cllr Bob Kilmister will have until the beginning of December to set the draft county council budget for 2019-20 – one of the hardest yet.

PCC is facing a £20million funding gap and, if a budget was to be set on the Welsh Government standard spending assessment of what should be spent providing services,  a 28 per cent increase in council tax would be required.

However, the council has never set a budget on the spending assessment, “which is part of our problem,” said Cllr Kilmister, cabinet member for finance.

A decision on a council tax increase next year is yet to be taken as “it will be determined by how much money is left to find.”

“I’d like it to be as low as it can be, I know it affects some people, the working poor -it has a massive affect on them,” he said.

Local government finance is complicated, he added, and there was a lot of talk about ensuring the public understood more about what decisions were being taken and why.

This includes the separation of revenue budgets – which includes council tax – and capital budgets – which includes the current purchase of Ocky White as part of Haverfordwest’s improvement plan.

Using the average council tax to decide funding has resulted in £14million under funding from Welsh Government, he said.

“We don’t charge the average council tax, we are 28 per cent away, last year it was 30 per cent away. We have said to them, and continue to lobby, that it should be on the basis of the actual council tax.

“Rhonnda Cynon Taff is in a situation where they get £16million more than they need and we get £14million less than we need, how on earth is that allowed to be a scenario?” Cllr Kilmister told local democracy reporter Katy Jenkins.

He added that the policy of having the lowest council tax in Wales was not sustainable, especially after 10 years of austerity.

“The Prime Minister insists austerity has ended but there’s no evidence to back this up, quite the reverse. I’m hugely annoyed by a central government that fails to understand the issues at local government,” said Cllr Kilmister.

The recent changes to national minimum wage has moved the cost to local authorities while reducing central government tax credit bills, with no compensation to councils.

“They’ve transferred the bill over to me and pocketed the money and that’s not equitable.

“We’ve got fantastic adult social services care but we can’t afford to do it anymore, across the UK there’s a crisis happening, it sounds dramatic but that’s where we are.

“There’s a 12 per cent increase in demand, nine per cent increase in domiciliary workers’ pay, it’s unsustainable.

“Seventy per cent of the budget is education and social services – where do you make cuts,? Both are unacceptable [to make cuts to] but how the hell do you run these other services that are important to other people?”

Cllr Kilmister said the cabinet role was “way harder” than expected.

“I knew it was going to be tough and a danger it was a real poisoned chalice but I thought I was better qualified than some to do and still believe that’s the case.

“It’s like turning an oil tanker around, I didn’t realise it was going to take as long as it’s going to take and the situation with the pressures increasing from the outside. I didn’t think they’d ramp up as much as as they ramped up.

“We are going to have to make changes, and they are going to be unpopular,” said Cllr Kilmister.

“It’s not a decision we want to take, they’re decisions we have to take, it’s either that or there are more serious consequences,” he said.

In response to those who say councillors should be scrapped to save money Cllr Kilmister said even if that happened there would still be a £19million funding gap and an “undemocratic process” to decision taking.

Although he, and many members of the authority, had pushed for a reduction in numbers, this had not been taken up by the Boundary Commission.

Plans are being put in place to cut jobs at the authority with money put aside for redundancies.

“One of the only things we can reduce in terms of costs is people but that can have a significant economic effect on the county,” added Cllr Kilmister.

“There’s a lot we don’t do well here and there’s a lot we do. This is the most efficient council in Wales because we charge the lowest amount and we give some of the highest services,” he added.

He urged members of the public to get involved with the consultation process following the budget setting, as well as reminding councillors of the importance of attending seminars.

Last year’s budget seminar had the best attendance yet but only 32 of 60 councillors made it.

“This is the most important thing they have to do,” said Cllr Kilmister.