Feedback from an increase in the number of people taking part in Bridgend County Borough Council’s annual budget consultation has helped to develop the final proposed budget for 2019-20.
With a 44 per cent increase in the number of returned surveys, Deputy Leader Hywel Williams has credited a ‘huge public response’ to the eight-week Shaping Bridgend’s Future consultation as having helped the authority to focus its increasingly limited resources and protect areas which residents have indicated they feel most strongly about.
The total net budget for 2019-20, which is due to be discussed by Cabinet on 12 February before moving on to full Council for final discussion and approval on 20 February, amounts to £270.8m. The council’s gross revenue budget for 2019-20 will be around £420m, with an additional capital investment programme for the year of £36.1m.
Thanks to a final settlement from Welsh Government which did not reduce the council’s funding as much as had been anticipated, one of the most significant features of the proposed budget is that schools will no longer be asked to find the one per cent annual efficiency saving that was proposed for 2019-20.
Instead, the council intends to spend £111m – around 42 per cent of its net revenue budget – on education, and 59 local schools will now share an additional £4.5m.
Capital funding of £26.5m has also been pledged towards the provision of new and refurbished school premises, which is in addition to the £21.5m that the authority has already invested in school modernisation.
The budget proposals reflect consultation feedback which found that people particularly wanted to protect schools, leisure services, care for older people, and services for disabled people.
As a result, the report also proposes that a total of £73m or 27 per cent of the net revenue budget will be spent on social care, early help and homelessness.
Around £19.5m has been marked for public realm works covering services such as highways, parks and open spaces, street cleaning, waste and recycling, public transport, rights of way and road safety.
A £36.1m capital investment programme has been developed which will invest £2.5m in disabled facilities grants, £2.4m for carriageway resurfacing and footpath repairs, £2.3m to prepare Maesteg’s west washery site for potential development, £2m for bridge strengthening and repairs in the Ogmore Valley, and £1.3m for the relocation of the Tythegston household recycling centre to an improved site at Pyle.
The capital investment programme also includes £1.1m for energy efficient street lighting technology, £1m to support the community asset transfers of sports pavilions, community centres and changing rooms, £530,000 for cemetery extensions at Porthcawl and Cornelly, and £500,000 for a children's residential accommodation hub.
A programme for the essential replacement of street lighting columns to ensure they remain safe will receive £400,000, and there will be £400,000 for road safety improvements, £357,000 for the Maesteg Town Hall Community hub project, £180,000 for Welsh Medium childcare provision, £100,000 for Assisted Recovery in the Community, and £11,000 for works to improve playing fields at Aberfields in Nantymoel.
In order to fund additional budget pressures and cover a funding shortfall of £7.6m, the budget report proposes to set a council tax increase of 5.4 per cent - the equivalent of an extra £1.45 a week for an average Band D property – and recommends a number of changes in how services are provided.
These include internal management restructures, reducing contributions to the Central South Consortium Joint Education Service, removing the councillor’s Community Action Fund, renegotiating contracts with partners such as HALO Leisure and Awen Cultural Trust, and restructuring Youth Offending and the Shared Regulatory Service.
Reviews have been proposed for services that include school crossing patrols, complex care provision, homelessness prevention and parks and playing fields, and fees could be increased for the processing of planning applications.
While the closure of Bridgend bus station was previously put forward, the proposed budget aims to keep it open by looking at new options such as entering into a partnership with Bridgend Town Council, charging bus operators more for using the facility, exploring opportunities for setting up commercial opportunities and more.
Faced with an ageing population and an increasing dependency upon council services, the council also aims to make significant savings through the introduction of two new Extra Care residential care homes.
We face having to cover a significant shortfall in funding once again, but thanks to a huge public response and a big increase in the number of people participating with our recent budget consultation, we have been able to fine-tune our budget proposals to ensure that they reflect as much of the feedback we have received as possible.
We have paid particular attention to what our local headteachers and schools have had to say about the likely impact of making a one percent reduction, so I’m relieved that the reduction in overall funding from Welsh Government has been less painful than we had been planning for as it means the proposal is no longer necessary.
While the proposed budget includes a council tax increase in order to ensure we can cover things like the new national pay deal for teachers, I’m pleased that it also supports a significant capital investment programme for the county borough.Deputy Leader Hywel Williams
He continued: “In developing the budget proposals and arriving at this report, we have had to take full account of UK economic and public expenditure strategies, Welsh Government priorities, legislative requirements, scrutiny feedback and ongoing national austerity measures.
“The Cabinet of Bridgend County Borough Council will now meet to discuss the budget on 12 February, and it will go from there to full Council on 20 February for final discussion and approval.”