Posted: Fri 27th Oct 2023

Bridgend Council Faces Bleak Financial Crisis with £11 Million Budget Deficit

news.wales / newyddion.cymru
This article is old - Published: Friday, Oct 27th, 2023

Bridgend council bosses have taken part in an intense scrutiny session this week, following the announcement of an almost £11 million budget deficit reported for half way through the 2023-24 financial year.
Members met on October 24, to discuss what was described as an “unprecedented situation” with the budget, which saw the authority’s projected overspend increase from £9.7million in June of 2023, to £10.9million by September.
The amount of increase was £1.2million over the last financial quarter according to a report given to members, and was said to be largely because of “ongoing pressures within the social services and wellbeing directorate and on the home to school transport budget.”
It led to members describing a financial situation that was currently “bleak and miserable” with deputy leader Cllr Jane Gebbie saying difficult decisions would now have to be made across a number of areas to bring the budget back under control.
She said : “I do think we need to  re-focus our spend and I think that’s going to be a difficult decision for all members across the board. I do think we need to have some difficult and courageous conversations that won’t be just us as an administration.”
The meeting came after a report released by Cardiff University last week that suggested councils in Wales are currently on an “unsustainable path” with a funding gap which is estimated to reach £744m by 2027.
It led to questions being  asked over whether or not the current level of services offered by the council in Bridgend were sustainable, as inflation and a cost of living crisis continue to impact all local authorities across Wales.
Cllr Simon Griffiths asked if the council had been “sufficiently pessimistic” when it came to the setting of the current budget, as well as asking what lessons could be learned ahead of the next financial year to avoid setting another deficit budget.
Chief Executive for Bridgend, Mark Shepherd said that the council had prepared a five point action plan, which included updated instructions on essential spend, a selected intelligent vacancy freeze, and better management of council owned buildings moving forward.
A review of specific directorates was also given to members with projected over-spends in the Education and Family Support budget, made up of £1.316 million in home to school transport, £510,000 for learner support, and £390,000 in catering services.
It was also suggested that 23 of the borough’s schools are currently projecting a deficit, which would continue to bring surplus balances down, though officers said they were supporting schools in monitoring their spends.
Other pressure areas highlighted in the talks included the Social Services and Well-being budget, which showed projected over-spends of £5.248 million in adult social care, £1.960 million in learning disabilities home care, and £1.097 million of over-spend on homes for older people.
The report read: “The Directorate has continued in 2023-24 to experience service and financial pressures in meeting statutory duties with a backdrop of a continued exponential increase in demand in children’s social care which impacts on the workforce required and a further increase in the number of independent residential placements in children’s services, along with pressures in learning disabilities and older people’s services driven by the complexity of need.”
Council leader Huw David said that while the process of reducing over-spends would now be a long one, he was confident that by working together the authority would find a way forward .
He said: “This is unprecedented in terms of its scale. It is our focus now obviously as a cabinet, as a council and as a CMB, how we navigate the way through these very difficult financial challenges, and the focus is going to be on the overspend for this year but also planning for the coming years as well.”
Cllr John Spanswick added: “This is my 24th year believe it or not of going through the budget process, the painful budget process, which I haven’t seen it like this. This is worrying times, it is extreme where we are now, but we will get through it.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​



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