IT is a “very blunt tool” but it’s what he has to work with, Pembrokeshire council’s finance cabinet member has said of council tax.

As Pembrokeshire County Council works towards its budget setting for 2021-22, authority scrutiny committees will discuss the “better than expected” Welsh Government settlement, cost efficiencies and a proposed increase in council tax of five per cent.

On Tuesday (January 19) members of the policy and pre-decision overview and scrutiny committee refused to back specific increase but called for further information on the cost implications of a three per cent rise and the potential use of reserves to support this year’s budget.

The amendment was made by Cllr Rhys Sinnett, seconded by Cllr Tony Baron, who both raised concerns about the impact council tax rises have on the “working poor” as well as grant funding for the third sector.

Cllr Sinnett said: “Alternative options need to be explored further, a three per cent rise and an opportunity to consider the use of reserves to set the budget.”

St Dogmaels councillor Mike James added concerns about child poverty, with Pembrokeshire having the highest level in Wales, and those “just above that line” on Universal Credit and other benefit support, who will pay tax on property while earning low wages.

Just over half the Pembrokeshire population – 56.9 per cent pay full council tax, the rest either pay nothing – 13.5 per cent of people – or have some sort of discount on the tax, the committee heard.

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Bob Kilmister said that recent Welsh Local Government Association discussions had highlighted alternative systems for cash generation, with council tax’s link to property rather than an ability to pay which “disproportionately effects the lower paid.”

Welsh Government could potentially add a penny to income tax and generate the same income as is made from council tax, for example, said Cllr Kilmister.

“Council tax isn’t a fair tax. I don’t want to put council tax up, I don’t want to tax the working poor, but I don’t have any more options,” he added, reminding the committee that the poorest people don’t pay but often need services provided more than others and would be impacted by budget cuts.