As promised, I return to Bridgend Council’s (BCBC) budget for 2016-17 (more detail here), which was discussed and debated by full council yesterday afternoon – the first full council webcast since webcasting was introduced.
You can watch the whole thing for yourselves here. The budget and council tax resolutions are items 7 and 8 on the agenda and start about 53 minutes in.
Here’s a selection of some of the key announcements made by cabinet members before the budget debate.
Deputy Leader, Cllr. Huw David (Lab, Cefn Cribwr) hailed a fall in persistent school absence (pupils who miss a fifth of half-day sessions) to below the Welsh average for 2014-15. The rates were 1.1% for primary schools (Welsh average 1.4%) and 3.5% for secondaries (4.5%).
Cabinet Member for Communities, Cllr. Hywel Williams (Lab, Blackmill), said work will be carried out on trees near the steps between Glanogwr Road and Newbridge Fields due to Dutch elm disease. Work started on the 7th of March and will last 10-15 days, during which time the steps and ramp will be closed occasionally for safety reasons.
Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care & Wellbeing, Cllr. Phil White (Lab, Caerau), announced a joint initative between BCBC and RNLI to run lifeguard services at beaches in Porthcawl. The service will run until 24th September at Trecco Bay and 4thSeptember for other major beaches (Rest Bay etc.). The RNLI have started recruiting new lifeguards, and anyone who’s physically fit and can swim at least 400m is invited to apply via the RNLI website.
Cabinet Member for Childrens Social Services, Cllr. Hailey Townsend (Lab, Brackla), celebrated the Bright Beginnings nursery in Tythegston being the first to start the Welsh Government’s Healthy & Sustainable Pre-School scheme, which addresses topics like hygiene, personal health, healthy lifestyles etc.
Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Economic Development, Cllr. Charles Smith (Lab, Llangewydd & Brynhyfred) showcased improvements to Kenfig Nature Reserve, including a new mural at the visitor centre highlighting six key species, new interpretation boards and new signage from the Wales Coastal Path. He thanked Cornelly Community Council for stepping forward to run public toilets at the site (Bridgend Public Toilets Earmarked for Closure).
Finally, Council Leader Cllr. Mel Nott (Lab, Sarn) provided an update on preparations for the 2017 Senior Open Championship which will be held at the Royal Porthcawl golf club. BCBC are providing £50,000 which will go towards highways, local marketing, school roadshows and an open-top bus to transport spectators from Porthcawl town centre to the club itself.
He called on the local community to get behind it as it “puts us in on the map” and brings significant economic benefits, which when last held in Porthcawl in 2014 were estimated to be £2.16million.
The Budget Debate
The outgoing Finance Officer, Ness Young – who will become the new director of the Wales NHS Confederation and did a brilliant impression of Collaterlie Sisters – largely went over the things I highlighted in my last post but in more detail. The key points were :
- The budget was set in the context of UK public finances and Welsh Government policy and legislative priorities.
- The improving situation with the UK’s finances meant increased budgets to the devolved administrations – in Wales’ case 0.85% – which meant the local government settlement was better than forecast with BCBC’s grant cut by -1.2%.
- Budget pressures include the Welsh Government’s commitment to protect school funding, which added a £1.58million pressure.
- There’s no indication from Welsh Government on budgets for years beyond 2016-17, so BCBC’s projections beyond that are based on assumptions. There’s also uncertainty over the cost of local government reorganisation and the future of public finances.
- BCBC will be expecting to make £35.5million of cuts over the next four financial years.
Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr. Mike Gregory (Lab, Felindre), paid tribute to Ness Young and the finance team. BCBC need to take a proactive approach to its resources and strike a proper balance between service provision and council tax increases. BCBC still face significant financial challenges and despite the better than anticipated settlement, they still had to make cuts.Cllr. Cheryl Green (Lib Dem, Bryntirion Laleston & Merthyr Mawr) had sympathy for the hard choices made and appreciated the hard work that went into the budget, but was concerned a 3.9% increase in council tax will hit people on fixed incomes hard; it’s risen £200 in Bridgend over the last four years.
Mel Nott told her that, while stemming increases in council tax should be looked at, the money has to come from somewhere and “every council” is increasing tax.
Cllr. John Spanswick (Lab, Brackla) supports the budget “with a heavy heart” as no councillor was elected to make cuts. The Welsh Government were doing their best to protect spending, and although the cuts were not as bad as they could’ve been we’re “under attack from a Tory government”. He welcomed the reduction in proposed cuts to highways and bus subsidies and was pleased cabinet and officers listened to the scrutiny committees and the public.
Cllr. Haydn Morgan (Lab, Morfa) mentioned the new drug treatment facility at Celtic Court on Tremains Road, which will be officially opened today (11th March) as an example of investment in vulnerable people.
Cllr. Jeff Tildesley (Ind, Cornelly) believed nobody wants to see council tax increases, but as councillors are always “asked to do more”, they can only do so with the right resources, so increases had to be supported..
Cllr. Craig Jones (Lab, Brackla) queried the lifeguard proposals. He welcomed the announcement on the RNLI partnership but asked if local lifesaving clubs would be involved? In reply, Cllr. Charles Smith said local clubs support the arrangement and many members are applying for the RNLI positions.
Cllr. Lyn Morgan (Lab, Ynysawdre) was pleased the cabinet followed through on the provision of two extra care facilities in the Valleys Gateway and Maesteg.
Cllr. Peter Foley (Ind, Morfa) was also pleased the commitment to heat homes with cutting edge technologies remained in the capital budget. Using the residual water in disused collieries could produce carbon-neutral heat and Bridgend can be a leading Welsh authority on that.
Moving to the council tax resolution, another Finance Officer, Randal Hemingway, said BCBC needs to collect £67.36million. This will result in an average £1,542 bill for a Band D property once Police & Crime Commissioner precepts (£207.85, or a 4% increase) and Town & Community Council precepts (pdf – page 3) are added.
Both the budget and council tax resolutions were (seemingly) approved unanimously.