Call for Bridgend taxi fare increase & more

(Pic : National Rail Enquiries)

Here’s another round-up of some of the key items on the agenda for Bridgend Council’s (BCBC) cabinet and full council this week.

Taxi drivers demand fare increases (pdf)

BCBC is responsible for setting maximum taxi fares in the county. As fares have effectively been frozen since 2011, they’ve received three proposals from taxi drivers to change them.

Maximum fares are set based on the number of passengers, time of day and distance (clicks), in addition to a flat payment for hiring a taxi (pickup/flag rate).

The taxi drivers support a change citing Bridgend’s taxi fares as being below the Welsh and regional average, increased costs, a desire to bring fares closer to the minimum wage and compensation for “dead miles” (where they return from a drop-off in a rural area without a fare on the way back). Therefore, all the proposals recommend a fare increase.

Based on a daytime 2-mile journey, the three submissions propose fare increases of 50p, 60p and £1.30 respectively. For a 5 mile journey carrying up to 4 passengers, the proposed increases are £1.10, £1.80 and £2.50.

One proposal also calls for fares to rise in line with inflation. This was rejected by officers, as changes in fares need full consultation and publication which they claim would be too costly.

It’ll be up to the cabinet to recommend one of the proposals and authorise an increase in fares or reject them all. We’ll find out later this week what will happen.

Coychurch Primary set to permanently expand (pdf)

In 2013, BCBC provided a portacabin at Coychurch Primary to accommodate extra pupils after housing developments off Wyndham Crescent in Brackla and the Coity bypass were assigned to the school’s catchment area….instead of the far more logical choices of Coety Primary and Tremains Primary.

This temporary expansion was to be reviewed in 2019, but BCBC officers have recommended making the expansion permanent, which requires a formal public consultation – expected to start in September. As a result, the school’s capacity will permanently increase from 93 pupils to 127 pupils.

As the portacabin is already used, the move is unlikely to be controversial, but it raises questions elsewhere.

Although the houses in Brackla/Coity have only been occupied for 2 years or so, there’s still no safe route between the development and Coychurch. The only direct route along Heol Simonston doesn’t have a pavement for the whole length or safe crossing places, while the only other options mean walking down single track country lanes around Coed-y-Mwstwr and/or crossing the south Wales main line.

So you’ve got to assume the pupils are either being driven to school or take a bus – buses which BCBC have long eyed up for cuts. Further expansion at Coychurch Primary may also be required if the future Parc Afon Ewenni development at Waterton falls under its catchment area too – and again there’s no safe walking/cycling route to or from the village.

Community Asset Transfer Programme to be changed? (pdf)

Community Asset Transfer means local authorities offloading buildings and assets – like playgrounds, sports pavilions, public toilets etc. to community organisations, clubs or political bodies lower down the food chain such as town & community councils.

Due to budget cuts, councils see it as a way to save money as well as involve local communities in running their own affairs.

In 2014, it was estimated the total cost of bringing Bridgend’s council-owned sports pavilions and changing rooms up to the required standard was £3.85million, with the most urgent repairs costing £2million.

BCBC set aside £1million to fund the repairs, with their contribution to individual projects capped at 40% of the total cost. The council would retain ownership of the buildings, but community groups etc. would take on responsibility for ongoing repair and maintenance under a lease agreement.

To date, 5 town & community councils and 71 community organisations have made applications to take control of community assets. 26 applications are “live”, with terms and business cases being finalised.

When it comes to sports pavilions, only Bryncethin RFC have had an application accepted, with £110,000 earmarked from the £1million. In the meantime, the cost of repairs across the county has increased and business cases for asset transfers are being more complex, meaning the 40% cap is seen as inadequate.

BCBC still intend to continue with the Bryncethin RFC project under current terms. However, future projects may be subject to a BCBC contribution cap of £50,000 until a new strategy for sports pavilions and changing rooms is drafted and agreed by the council. Only projects with the strongest business cases would be eligible for money beyond £50,000.

Due to an admitted lack of expertise, BCBC also intends to establish an expert advisory panel to go over business cases and recommend funding approvals for complex proposals.

Council webcasts quietly dropped?

This isn’t something on the official agenda but is something to become increasingly concerned about – a quiet dropping of council meeting webcasts.

It hasn’t been officially ditched and some webcasts are still online, but the last webcast was the Planning Committee meeting in April with no sign any current or future meetings will be webcast.

It took an absolute age, and a lot of foot-dragging by BCBC, for them to take up webcasting in the first place (even if it was limited to planning meetings). Nevertheless, it was a welcome first step towards greater transparency and greater public understanding of what the council does (Camera Shy).

Regardless of the number of people who use it, seeing councillors do their job is essential. The May election should’ve been a wake-up call to BCBC, and Labour in particular, to properly engage with the public and become more open.

At Wednesday’s full council meeting, five questions have been tabled by opposition councillors on changes to the school organisation code (which might impact changes to schools, such a closures and enlargement), public toilet provision, access to leisure facilities for the disabled, how complaints are dealt with by social services and improving school performances of children who receive free school meals.

We’re not going to see or hear any of it.

These are all important questions, yet – unless you actually go to the Civic Offices and sit through the meeting live – aside from councillors’ own accounts of what was said, we won’t get an idea of what happened until the minutes are approved in September.

It looks as though the Welsh Government are set to make webcasting mandatory, though it’s about time they told Labour colleagues lower down the food chain to set an example, as many councils that haven’t taken up webcasting with much enthusiasm are Labour-run.

As always, it’s worth asking “What do they want to hide?”