Bridgend Council Budget 2014-15

Yesterday, Bridgend Council (BCBC) met to approve the authority’s budget for the coming financial year and next four years – or “Medium Term Financial Strategy” as they put it.All of the budget documents are available here.

Tough Times

Local government was hammered in the last Welsh budget. This came after years of cuts which weren’t as deep as English councils. The average council budget cut across Wales was 3.5%, though Bridgend got off lightly with a reported 2.7% cut. BCBC argue that the cuts are deeper due to how things like local government borrowing are recorded.

As of December 2013, BCBC reported a slight under-spend of £433,000. This compares to a projected overspend of £1million a year earlier. Despite this achievement, BCBC say this “masks overspends” in areas like looked-after children and adult social care – the latter likely to be outsourced soon.

The public consultation findings suggest people preferred cuts to the number of councillors, employees and employee benefits. Other suggestions included introducing new charges for council services, making sure big spend projects work first time (like Bridgend’s regeneration) and encouraging volunteering.

From the outset, Bridgend Council had to find £11.3million in savings for 2014-15, and a total of £35.8million in savings by 2017-18 – possibly as high as £44.3million.

BCBC have identified just over £30million in savings for that period, still leaving a potential £5.8million gap.

The effect on council staff

68% of BCBC’s revenue budget goes on staff, so naturally that’s going to come under pressure, indicated in the budget via “staffing reviews”. It’s unclear how many job losses there could be, but I understand it’s a cabinet priority to avoid compulsory redundancies wherever possible.

The three main unions representing BCBC workers – Unison, GMB and Unite – have been in negotiations since last November on a possible pay freeze. Only GMB and Unite members were balloted. The majority result of the ballots supported the status quo – that’s an incremental pay rise – though a sizable minority were willing to accept a pay freeze.

BCBC have put forward a compromise whereby the lowest paid staff will still receive a 1% increase in pay, but a pay freeze will be imposed on all other grades, including councillors. The Glamorgan Gazette reported today that it would affect around 4,500 BCBC employees.

Swinging the Axe

On to the budget proposals themselves, starting with the cuts. I’ll list the standout ones.

Children and Schools (-£3.05million)

  • £410,000 savings from a staff restructure in additional learning needs.
  • £116,000 savings from falling school rolls.
  • All funding for Bridgend Youth Orchestra will be cut, they’ll need to be self-financing (-£27,000).
  • Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme ends (-£10,000).
  • £450,000 in savings from re-tendering school bus contracts and rationalising special needs transport. This isn’t related to the proposed changes to home-school transport – which has been postponed, subject to further consultation.
  • Cuts to school meals services (-£100,000).
  • Staff restructuring in the youth service and children & schools department (-£1.58million).

Adult Social Care (-£3.1million)
  • £1.7million in savings over the next three years from outsourcing home help.
  • £320,000 raised from a review of fair charging.
  • £80,000 savings from consolidation of adult day care services (could eventually see the closure of Minerva Day Centre, Bridgend and Vernon Hart Centre, Maesteg).
  • £184,000 savings from management, admin and training.
  • 7.5% cut in service delivery budget (-£500,000)

Healthy Living (-£516,000)
  • £728,000 saved over the next three years from transfer of leisure services to Halo Leisure.
  • £100,000 savings from library review.
  • Cuts to staff (£-15,000).

Communities (-£1.73million)
  • £780,000 savings this year as a result of less waste being sent to Neath Port Talbot incinerator.
  • £100,000 savings as a result of procurement of an anaerobic digestion facility.
  • Extension of part-time switch off of rural streetlights (-£70,000).
  • Review of supported Sunday bus services (-£50,000).
  • £163,000 savings as a result of a staffing review.
  • £180,000 extra income as a result of new charges for collecting bulky waste.

Corporate Resources/Council Wide (-£2.9million)
  • £968,000 in savings from general staffing restructures and not filling senior vacancies.
  • £125,000 savings from reducing internal printing costs.
  • £122,000 savings as a result of rationalisation of software and licensing costs.
  • £75,000 savings from review of CCTV, IT and customer services.
  • Reducing“County Bulletin” from 3 editions a year to 2 (-£21,000), switching to electronic only from 2016-17.
  • Reduce voluntary sector funding (-£150,000 [-£450,000 over next three years])
  • £200,000 savings from review of capital finance budgets.
  • Reduced provision of non pay inflation and auto enrolment (-£600,000).

Council Tax

  • The Band D Council Tax rate will rise from £1,135.36 to £1,191.87 (+£56.51) –  a rise of 4.98%.
  • The South Wales Police precept will increase by 5% to £190.34.
  • The five largest Community and Town Council precepts are:
    • Maesteg Town (£52.00)
    • Llangynwyd Lower (£42.20)
    • Pencoed Town (£40.59)
    • Bridgend Town (£38.71)
    • Cefn Cribbwr (£36.12)
  • The five smallest Community and Town Council precepts are:
    • Laleston (£21.43)
    • St. Brides Minor (£20.05)
    • Coychurch Lower (£18.38)
    • Coity Higher (£18.06)
    • Merthyr Mawr (£13.71) 

Getting a boost

There are £3.6million of “inescapable budget pressures” – including £1million towards council tax reduction schemes and £625,000 to deal with ageing populations and the subsequent demand that places on services. In all cases, BCBC say they’ll be able to meet their statutory duties.

Most capital funding is a continuation of the Modernising Schools Programme, which has around £12.5million committed towards it in the coming financial year and a total of £68million until 2018/19. This includes:

  • £8.1million towards the new Coety Primary School (between now until 2016/17).
  • £4.9million towards a Mynydd Cynffig Primary extension (between now and 2018/19)
  • Around £3.5million towards Additional Learning Needs – presumably a result of Ysgol Bryn Castell and the Pupil Referral Unit moving to the old Ogmore Comprehensive School.
  • £10million towards the replacements for Betws Primary, Tynyrheol Primary and Ysgol Cwm Garw (between now and 2017/18)
  • Money has also been set aside for a future replacement for Pencoed Primary.

There’s £1.7million earmarked towards a relocation of BCBC’s depots, which I understand will be shared with South Wales Police. There’s also around £2.4million earmarked for housing renewals this year.
£5.1million is earmarked for Porthcawl’s regeneration, and that doesn’t include an extra £169,000 towards improved coastal flood defences. £500,000 has been put forward to update Bridgend Market, which will include a new roof.

Around £2.3million will be borrowed under the Local Government Borrowing Initiative for road infrastructure, and £153,000 earmarked for residents-only parking schemes in Bridgend town centre.

BCBC also received a boost with the recent announcement of £6million in Welsh Government Vibrant and Viable Places funding towards further regeneration in Bridgend town centre. The original bid was for £15million, and it’s not quite understood what BCBC will do with the money.

There’ve been rumours either the current police station (which is moving to Bridgend Industrial Estate), or part of the Rhiw Car Park, could be redeveloped into flats to encourage more people to live in the town centre. I’ll return to this when BCBC have firm plans one way or another.