Bridgend Council offices set for £3.8million revamp

Bridgend Council’s (BCBC) annual report (pdf) and an updated capital programme (pdf) are due to be discussed at cabinet and full council this week, as councillors prepare to start the process of setting next year’s budget.

Of course, none of us will be able to see or hear local democracy in action it as it seems BCBC are still dragging their feet on the webcasting of council meetings, but I digress….

I’m going to focus on the capital programme in particular, but if you want an idea of how BCBC perceive themselves to be performing, then it’s worth checking out the annual report (linked above).

The revised capital programme runs between 2015 and 2025 (pdf) and is worth a total of £140.9million. Most of the changes between this revised budget and the one the council approved in February are the result of changes to school building programmes (though there’s nothing major to report there yet).

You may remember that a few weeks ago, BCBC approved leasing out their Raven’s Court offices and centralising council staff at the Civic Offices on Angel Street (Seven Bridgend Schools in the Red & more). As I said at the time, this would require additional capital funding as BCBC expect council staff to “hot-desk” (multiple staff sharing one desk) and increasingly work from home.

The report (p3) says the centralisation will require BCBC to buy 287 new laptops, a £32,000 Falcon scanner to aid with paperless working (EDRM) and upgraded IT infrastructure at the Civic Offices (and nearby offices) – total cost of £1.22million over the next five years.

In addition, there’s what’s described as an “urgent need” to refurbish the exterior, and interior parts, of the Civic Offices due to a “lack of investment” over the last 33 years. It’s said the roof and windows in particular are nearing the end of their design life and various parapets need to be replaced.

Due to problems with damp (or, to use the jargon in the report, “water ingress”), it’s said a failure to invest in refurbishment now will, “result in further degradation of the (external) fabric….causing dilapidation….increased annual maintenance….and repair costs.”The price tag for these works is a fairly hefty £2.55million, which has been added to the capital budget for 2016-17. This investment will extend the life of the building by 30 years.

The total cost of the IT upgrades and refurbishment of the Civic Offices will be a whopping £3.77million – though it’s worth pointing out that a significant chunk of that (some £2.7million) has already been saved through previous consolidation of offices.

These things are a necessity, and it’s an accounting truth that spending money upfront can sometimes save money in the long run. However, seeing a council spending these sums of money on itself – particularly after deciding to abandon a perfectly serviceable office block – is unlikely to go down well with the public in a time of cuts.

BCBC Launches Consultation on “The Future”

Bridgend Council need to make £50million of savings between now and 2020. Although most local authorities carry out public consultations on budgets etc. BCBC have opted to launch a consultation on “the future” in order to help prioritise and plan services over a longer period.

Council Leader, Cllr. Mel Nott (Lab, Sarn), says:

“Outside of Cardiff, Bridgend County Borough has grown faster than anywhere else in Wales, so even while we are trying to provide services with our vastly reduced resources, the cost of providing them is increasing.

“This is a major challenge, and the difficult decisions that need to be made are likely to affect each and every one of us. That’s why we need as many people as possible to take part in this budget consultation, and help ensure that we can reflect your needs and priorities in the budget for the coming year.”

Chief Executive, Darren Mepham, says:

“Over the last few years, the council has been undergoing a transformation programme that has already found budget reductions of more than £20m, many of which have been found through internal efficiencies and working with partners to find new ways of providing services.

“But it’s important that local communities, businesses and organisations play a part in this process, and help us to shape the future of the county borough.”

This is a big deal. My sources have told me that the medium to long term expectation is that Bridgend Council will be up to 70% smaller than it is today (interpret that however you want).
As far as I can tell, this doesn’t take into account the impact of future local government reorganisation, with Bridgend currently – I stress “currently” because it changes every couple of months – set to merge with Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil councils (Back to the Future).

BCBC will be holding a series of drop-in sessions/workshops around the county – all the details, dates times etc. are available here.

They’ve also launched an online survey, which takes around 10-20 minutes to complete – available here. You can give your views on ways BCBC can save money, as well as raise it.

As an added incentive, BCBC are offering anyone who completes the survey – and who gives a valid e-mail address – a free 7-day pass to all Halo Leisure sites in the county (Bridgend Rec, Ynysawdre Swimming Pool, Maesteg Sports Centre etc.) – which you can give to a friend or family member if you want, it says so in the terms and conditions.

You’ll also be entered into a prize draw to win a free year’s membership worth £350.

The consultation closes on November 22nd 2015.