The monthly full council meeting took place on February 28th. It was webcast (available here) and lasts for just under 3 hours.
Here are the highlights, starting with the most important agenda item – the budget.
Bridgend Council Budget 2018-19 Approved
The details of the budget itself are available here.
Council Leader, Cllr. Huw David (Lab, Cefn Cribwr), praised the cross-party approach to developing and scrutinising the budget. He believed it was a “constructive, comprehensive and honest” process. That doesn’t change the challenges they face every year in balancing the books; every council is proposing Council Tax rises this year regardless of ruling party/parties. BCBC have also never supported as many older and disabled people, as well as primary school pupils, as they have this year.
Deputy Leader, Cllr Hywel Williams (Lab, Blackmill) told councillors the budget consultation received over 2,000 responses and decisions will be made democratically based on evidence – the public’s priorities being schools, care for the elderly and highways. BCBC do their best to keep fees and charges low but they’re likely to be reviewed in future.
Cllr. Carolyn Webster (Con, Newcastle) was concerned the (Labour) Welsh Government isn’t properly financing new pressures they place on local authorities – such as the Additional Learning Needs Bill. She also criticised the Cabinet’s refusal to release the Kier recycling contract. This was challenged by the Monitoring Officer, Andrew Jolley, who said a decision on the contract hasn’t been made yet.
While respecting the budget difficulties, Cllr. Matthew Voisey (Con, Oldcastle) was concerned about public toilets cuts. He didn’t see how a cut to public toilets, while that consultation is still ongoing, gives the public confidence in how decisions are reached. He proposed an amendment to find the money from £600,000 of discretionary education funds, earmarked towards things such as a Festival of Learning and school uniform grant – this wasn’t supported by the Cabinet as nothing was “a done deal” yet, including bus and toilet cuts.
Cllr. Stuart Baldwin (Lab, Morfa) praised an allocation to reduce empty properties. Cllr. Cheryl Green (Lib Dem, Bryntirion Laleston & Merthyr Mawr) would support the budget as it was an inclusive process and didn’t include a schools budget cut.
Cllr. Lyn Walters (Con, Oldcastle) was concerned about future cuts to audit services which could lead to staff “cutting corners” and cost BCBC more than the projected £30,000 saving. Finance Officer, Gill Lewis, said any cut comes with a risk, but the saving was achievable without putting audit services in danger.
Cllr. Ross Penhale-Thomas (Ind, Maesteg West) also welcomed the fact there was no school budget cut this year, but schools shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet as a cut is factored in for next year’s budget. He also welcomed investment in Maesteg Town Hall which he hoped would become “the envy” of the Valleys. Ross echoed Cllr. Voisey’s comments on toilets – though he suggested the money come from the councillor’s Community Action Fund.
The Council Leader defended the Community Fund as it’s only a pilot and can make a difference when used appropriately – citing the use of his own funding to create a sensory space for special needs pupils in Cefn Cribwr.
The budget went to a recorded electronic vote. 40 voted in favour with 8 abstentions (Conservative councillors, I understand).
Council rejects joint Local Development Plan with RCT & Caerphilly
The Local Development Plan (LDP) is one of BCBC’s high-level strategies and is the main consideration when planning applications are received. Bridgend’s LDP will expire in 2021 and the county is under pressure to find more land for housing.
While the Cardiff City Region is expected to develop a wider strategic development plan covering all 10 local authorities in south east Wales, the Welsh Government invited BCBC to consider developing a joint LDP with Rhondda Cynon Taf and Caerphilly.
Planning officers and Cabinet members weren’t impressed. An officer said the invitation was “unexpected” and also carried a risk that a joint plan wouldn’t be ready by 2021, leaving a policy vacuum and developers winning planning approval by appeal. Cabinet Member for Communities, Cllr, Richard Young (Lab, Pendre) also believed neither Caerphilly or RCT plans align appropriately with Bridgend.
Cllr. Ken Watts (Ind, Newton) thought the Welsh Government failed to provide enough evidence in support of a joint LDP. Cllr. James Radcliffe (Plaid, Aberkenfig) believed a regional plan would be skewed in favour of large developers. It was also asking the council to give away powers; was it reorganisation by stealth?
Officers recommended rejecting a joint LDP and to authorise officers to begin work on a Bridgend-only LDP. This was unanimously approved.
Councillors back health board change
As I’ve recently covered, there’s a public consultation on moving Bridgend county from Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board (ABMU) to Cwm Taf health board – which covers RCT and Merthyr.
BCBC’s Chief Executive, Darren Mepham, said Bridgend was unique in collaborating both westwards (with Swansea and NPT) for health and social services and eastwards (with Cardiff, Vale, RCT etc.) on education. Changing health boards would align all these under one region which would make things easier when there’s increased collaboration between councils in future.
He reassured Cllr. Martyn Jones (Lab, Bettws) that it was an administrative change and no health services would change. The financial position of Cwm Taf was also stronger than ABMU, but he called on the Welsh Government to properly oversee the move.
Cllr. Huw David told Cllr. Green ABMU were “disappointed” Bridgend could be leaving but recognised the reasons why. He also told Cllr. Walters there were no plans to change where patients access treatment (i.e. patients will still be sent to NPT Hospital and Morriston where appropriate).
Cllr. Penhale-Thomas asked about the future of Maesteg Hospital, to which the Council Leader said he had written to Cwm Taf’s Chair and was given a commitment towards providing more services in the community and away from hospitals.
Officers recommended that BCBC’s response to the consultation is in favour of the move, which was unanimously approved.
Cabinet announcements in brief
- Council Leader, Cllr. Huw David said talks were “ongoing” on local government reorganisation. Bridgend will discuss its initial response at the next group leaders meeting, while a response on behalf of all local authorities in Wales will be issued via the WLGA.
- Deputy Leader, Cllr. Hywel Williams, told the chamber Bridgend featured prominently in the UK news recently with regards recycling. Wales is doing better than rest of the UK and Bridgend was used as an example to show it’s possible not only to hit targets but exceed them, with Bridgend hitting recycling rates most counties “could only dream of”.
- Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Cllr. Dhanisha Patel (Lab, Ogmore Vale), announced that under the BCBC-Halo Leisure partnership, leisure centres have seen £200,000 worth of upgrades, including new cardio training equipment.
- Cabinet Member for Education & Regeneration, Cllr. Charles Smith (Lab, Llangewydd & Brynhyfyd), highlighted the latest school “traffic light” categorisation, which placed 38 of 48 primary schools and 7 of 9 secondary schools placed in the highest two school categories (green & yellow). 8 primaries and 2 secondary schools were in amber, with 2 primary schools in red. The trend was one of “overall improvement”.