ARE you getting value for money from your council?
The amount each local authority spends on each resident was revealed yesterday.
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council spent the most each year with £1,838 per person. Monmouthshire County Council spent the least, with £1,353 per head.
How much your council spends on you can be compared with how much you spend on it through the council tax bill.
Council tax payers in Newport appear to get best value for money. The difference between the tax bill for an average band D home and the amount the council spends per head is £1030 - higher than any other local authority in Wales.
Councils pay for the services they provide, like schools, social care, street lighting and rubbish collecting, with council tax and a settlement from the Government.
Council tax also goes towards helping to pay for the police, who also receive central cash from the Home Office. And a portion of it goes to community councils.
Yesterday's figures, for 2003/4, show education ate up the lion's share of councils' revenue - 36.6% across Wales. Social services accounted for 18.8% and housing, 7.1%.
Councils in Wales are currently working out how much to charge council tax payers this year. They will have to finalise their bills for the 2004/5 financial year by the end of this month.
Cardiff council yesterday announced it wants to raise the band D rate by 2.93%.
Monmouthshire council is proposing a 4% rise, it said yesterday. Graham Downe, deputy council leader, said that was lower than previous years.
Neither rise includes precepts to police authorities and community councils.
Mr Downe said, "We get a particularly raw deal from the Assembly because the formula they use works against us."
Monmouthshire is unfairly labelled as a rich county, which means it ends up with less money to spend on services, he claimed.
"If you raised our settlement to the average level in Wales, we would get an extra £15m to spend.
"Most of the budget goes on schools and social services. But we have a particularly ageing population, so if the proportion of people over 80 is high, they need things like home help."
Councils have told the Assembly Government it is not giving them enough money. The Assembly has hit back, saying it might cap local council spending to stop massive council tax rises.
But many people in Wales will receive higher tax bills anyway as part of the Assembly's re-banding exercise.
Last week Andrew Davies, Economic Development Minister, said re-banding should not be used as "an excuse" for higher bills.
Sue Essex, Assembly Finance Minister, wrote to councils telling them she expected council tax rises to be about 5%.
There was the prospect the Assembly's tone could lead to a spat between the Cardiff Bay Government and the Liberal Democrats, who now dominate Wales' biggest urban councils in Cardiff and Swansea.
Yesterday the ruling Lib Dem group in Cardiff said it had put some projects on hold after consulting people in the city. Its 2.93% was less than half the rise originally proposed.
Both the Lib-Dems and Plaid Cymru now favour some form of local income tax to replace council tax.
Dai Lloyd, Plaid Cymru's Shadow Local Government Minister, said, "Local authorities are already struggling to balance their books after the meagre settlement grant that they received from this Labour Assembly Government earlier this year."
The Welsh Assembly Government insists its local authority settlement is reasonable, with councils getting an average 6% rise.
Daniel Hurford, a Welsh Local Government Association policy spokesman, said, "It would be inaccurate to compare councils' 'value for money' purely based on per capita spend - when you have no detail on the range or quality of services being delivered by councils, nor their particular socio- economic characteristics or depri- vation levels.
"You cannot compare authorities on a like-for-like basis.
"For example, Powys and Newport have the same number of school children, but Powys has twice the number of schools."