(Title Image: CF31/former Business Improvement District)
The major item of business on the agenda of this week’s BCBC Cabinet meeting is a series of reports on the impact of, and recovery from, the coronavirus pandemic (main report here – pdf).
The Pandemic’s Impact
While the pandemic is far from over – and there’s always the risk of a second wave or sudden local spike – compared to other counties in Wales Bridgend hasn’t been hit as hard as we perhaps could’ve been.
According to Public Health Wales, as of Sunday (28th June 2020), there have been a cumulative 554 positive tests in Bridgend county (382 cases per 100,000 people, below the Welsh figure of 493) and 326 deaths across the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board (Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil).
Though clearly for those who’ve lost loved ones or spent a long time recovering or shielding at home or in hospital, this has been a horrendous time and it’s too easy to look at these things as numbers on a spreadsheet.
The pandemic has completely changed how Bridgend Council works, with efforts made to reduce the impact on frontline services wherever possible.
In a separate report on the economic recovery programme (pdf), officers say that before the pandemic, the unemployment rate in Bridgend was 4% – this was before factoring in the imminent Ford engine plant closure (which will result in the Bridgend economy taking a £190million) and the completion of Brexit at the end of 2020.
Unemployment is expected to increase to closer to 8% and twice as many businesses have closed permanently in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Around 2,300 businesses in Bridgend county have received some form of emergency grant funding. Elsewhere, 2,000 sneeze guards have been distributed and 300 Covid-19 awareness courses have been held for businesses ahead of last week’s easing of lockdown and in anticipation of further easing in the coming weeks.
Restart & Recovery
Services provided by BCBC have been gradually returning over the last few weeks, including recycling centres/tips, council-run car parks, some libraries have started click-and-collect services and schools are reopening for catch-up sessions for the next three weeks.
Additionally, the council itself has begun holding virtual meetings – though it’s not yet possible to return to the full meeting schedule yet.
BCBC will establish an Economic Recovery Task Force to determine what measures need to be taken at a local level, working in tandem with the Cardiff City Region, Welsh Government and UK Government. Some of the identified investment opportunities include Metro schemes, expanding digital connectivity and bringing forward strategic sites for development.
In terms of public services, the priorities include: reopening schools fully in September, returning waste services to normal, ensuring the long-term future of cultural and leisure venues, preventing homelessness and improving homelessness services, properly tracking and tracing virus cases and potentially expanding the number of council services available and delivered online.
A longer-term strategy of renewal will need to be developed by 2022, including a re-evaluation of the council’s office space requirements, a new vision and role for the county’s town centres, possible changes to the role of local government generally and improved working with community councils and the voluntary sector.
How much will the pandemic and the recovery cost Bridgend Council?
The report says the 2020-21 budget will “require a major reset” – whether that means an emergency budget will be tabled, I don’t know.
The council has faced cash flow problems because they have to claim money in arrears from the Welsh Government (i.e. they have to spend money they may not have before claiming it back).
An extra £78million has been made available to councils in the Welsh Government’s emergency budget to cover lost income. Since April 2020, Bridgend Council has submitted claims for more than £2.9million in extra spending but, to date, has received less than £900,000 back from the Welsh Government.
The council has lost an estimated £2.2million in income from things like car parking charges and paid-for school meals. BCBC also expects to lose £1million in council tax revenues as households struggle to pay their bills in the coming months.
A proposed economic futures fund is expected to cost anything up to £1.7million, though some of that will come from the Welsh Government and there’ll likely be other grant schemes at a Welsh and UK level the council can bid for.