Bridgend Budget 2015-16

It’s budget season in Welsh local government. That means it’s time for my annual look at what Bridgend Council (BCBC) propose in terms of cuts and capital spending both next year and for the medium-term.

BCBC’s cabinet are set to discuss the budget tomorrow, and all the documents are here (pdf). It still has to be approved by full council but that’s usually just a formality.

The General Picture
BCBC’s total budget for the coming year is £252.2million, although the Welsh Government cut Bridgend’s revenue grant by 3.6% – which is in line with the Welsh average.BCBC have to make £11.2million in savings for 2015-16 and between £49-56million savings in total between now and 2018-19 – although it’s worth pointing out that BCBC’s medium-term plans are based on harsher cuts of up to 4.5% per year for the coming three financial years.

BCBC managed a £297,000 underspend in 2014-15, mainly due to underspending in the legal department; though the report says this, “masks a number of in budget pressures in Safeguarding & Family Support and Adult Social Care”.

As you might remember, BCBC launched a public consultation on proposed cuts last year (Bridgend’s Cabinet Expansion & Cuts Consultation). Some of the measures outlined in the consultation which had public support include:

  • Delivering libraries and cultural services through a not-for-profit trust – 64% agreed (more details here)
  • Introducing charges for pest control – 58%
  • Introducing parking charges for blue badge holders in off-street car parks – 58%
  • Introduce a charge for credit card transactions – 55%
  • Review home-school transport – 50% (more on the latest proposals here)

Most of the above have been included in the budget.

Proposed Cuts & Savings

I’ve highlighted ones you might be interested in in bold ( means a budget cut and/or redundancies).

Education & Transformation (-£2.45million)

  • Cuts, restructuring and changes to school and special needs transport (-£700,000)
  • Reduce (school) catering service budget (-£200,000)
  • Remodel integrated working and family support (-£545,000)
  • Staff redundancies in business support (-£310,000)
  • End subsidies for county music service (-£40,000; the Bridgend Youth Orchestra had its subsidy withdrawn last year)
  • £50,000 saved by making schools pay copyright licences currently paid for by BCBC.
  • £170,000 saved through the rationalisation of nursery school provision.

Social Services & Well-being (-£3.53million)
  • Focus local authority support on complex care (-£307,000)
  • Support increased independence for people with learning disabilities (-£220,000)
  • Changes to management, training and administration (-£215,000)
  • Review of the meals on wheels service(-£121,000)
  • Safeguarding & Family Support (-£470,000 [£200k of which is a reduction in children’s residential care beds and £170k in redundancies])
  • £1.4million savings resulting from new ways of working outlined as part of the Social Services & Wellbeing Act 2014.
  • £277,000 savings resulting from the Halo Leisure partnership.
  • £87,000 raised through new charges at Ael y Bryn home, North Cornelly.

Communities (-£2.49million)
  • Review of staffing structures in the planning department (-£544,000)
  • Review of grounds maintenance, including reduction in grass cutting at cemeteries, playing fields and bowling rinks as well as introduction of wild flowers on some grassland (-£437,000)
  • Review of highways maintenance (-£308,000)
  • Review of subsidised bus services(-£120,000)
  • Review of public toilets (-£50,000)
  • Review of school crossing patrols (-£60,000)
  • £52,000 saved by removing subsidies for burials
  • £165,000 (potentially) raised by introducing parking charging for blue badge holders at off-street car parks.
  • £50,000 saved by making the public buy their own black bags.
  • £75,000 saved from a joint BCBC-South Wales Police maintenance depot in Brackla.
  • £40,000 raised by introducing a 30p departure charge at Bridgend Bus Station.

Resources (-£1.15million)
  • Staffing restructures in finance, built environment, ICT service, accountancy, human resources and communications (-£646,000 in total)
  • Reducing, or even removing, cleaning services – presumably on BCBC property (-£100,000)
  • Reducing office accommodation (-£120,000)
  • Reduce CCTV and customer service operations (-£30,000, due to partnership between BCBC and Vale of Glamorgan)
  • £19,000 raised from introducing 1.7% charge for credit card transactions.

Legal & Regulatory Services (-£554,000)
  • Public protection collaboration (-£288,000)
  • Staff restructure/redundancies (-£268,000)

Corporate/Council-wide (-£1.05million)
  • Reduce voluntary sector funding (-£78,000)
  • £250,000 saved in administrative support due to the EDRM (“paperless working”) project.
  • £193,000 saved by ending pensioners’ council tax relief scheme.
  • £100,000 saved by reducing insurance premiums.

Annual mooring fees at Porthcawl Harbour will also be increased by 15%, though BCBC say this would remain “competitive” with prices across the region.
The thing that stands out this year is that although redundancies have been mentioned in previous budgets, this year they’re specifically mentioned in greater numbers and across all council departments. There’s no indication how many lay-offs there’ll be, but I’m sure we’ll know soon enough once the trade unions get wind.Be warned. Next year looks even worse (potentially up to £14million in cuts) – and just in time for the National Assembly elections, naturally.

Capital Programme

All of the above covers the council’s day-to-day running costs, while the capital programme outlines the money BCBC will spend on new projects. Most of it includes ongoing projects which carry over from last year.

As usual, most of the focus is on school modernisation, totalling just over £48million between 2015-16 and 2018-19.

Some of these projects are already underway or at late stages of planning, like the new Coety Primary and replacements for Betws Primary, YGG Cwm Garwand Brynmenyn Primary.

There was one particular thing of interest in the schools programme and that’s funding for a new Pencoed Primary. The school has been operating as a split-site campus since Heol-y-Cyw Primary merged with Pencoed a few years ago. The £8.25million allocated between 2015-16 and 2018-19 will go towards a new school – the details of which haven’t been revealed yet – and will inevitably lead to the complete closure of the Heol-y-Cyw site.

Mynydd Cynffig Primary is set to have a £4million extension to accommodate a merger between the junior and infant schools from 2016-17 (at the junior school site), while Heronsbridge Special School will have £1.5million spent on it from 2017-18.

£1.6million is allocated to build a new substance misuse treatment centre at Celtic Court (the redbrick building next to the Volkswagen dealership on Tremains Road). There’s also £2.35million per year allocated for housing renewal and disability grants for the next ten years.

Just over £1million is allocated for new cremators at Coychurch Crematorium, while £200,000 is allocated for a Berwyn Centre replacement in Nantymoel.

There’s just under £13.8million available for projects to support the local economy in 2015-16, including :

  • £5.4million towards Porthcawl regeneration infrastructure.
  • £4.8million from Vibrant & Viable Places (for the Rhiw car park redevelopment).
  • £2.4million towards the Llynfi Valley Development Programme.

Council Tax & Precepts

Here comes the pain….Despite all of the cuts outlined, council tax is set to rise by 4.8%. In total, council tax raises around £63.8million (25%) of BCBC’s budget.That compares to a rise of 3.5% in 2013-14 and just under 5% last year. It means a Band D bill is set to go up from £1,191.87 to £1,249.07 (+£57.20).

To put that in perspective, in England, any council tax rise over 2% is supposed to trigger a local referendum. Although council tax bills are, on average, around £200 higher in England, if this goes ahead, Bridgend will only be around £50 off the average Band D council tax bill for Greater London (pdf)!

The South Wales Police precept is to rise, yet again, by another 5% to around £199.50 (+£9.50). South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Alun Michael (Lab) said it’s because Wales is disadvantaged by the funding formula used by the Home Office to set police budgets in EnglandandWales, which has resulted in £8.8million being diverted from South Wales to the three other Welsh forces.

The South Wales Fire Service precept is actually being cut by 1.54%, saving Bridgend around £102,000.

At time of posting there are no figures given for community and town council precepts. Depending on where you live, based on last year’s figures, you can expect that to add an extra £15-55.