COUNCIL TAX: Proposed increase of 3.9% planned for Bridgend County
‘A consultation on the proposed budget is now underway and the council will meet in February to decide whether to proceed with the plans’ – consultation ended in December 2020'
Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) is proposing to increase council tax by 3.9% next year.
The figure is based on the council’s proposed budget of £298.956 million for 2021/22.
Council tax funds almost a third of the council’s budget, bringing in over £80m annually across 65,000 households. Collection rates over the last two years were the highest ever in the council’s history but have been impacted since by the pandemic.
The council will meet in February to decide whether to proceed with the plans.
The Welsh Government will give the council an increase of 4.3% (or £9.064 million) from last year, higher than the average increase for all Welsh councils of 3.8%.
The proposed gross budget for next year is around £420 million.
BCBC is the largest employer in the area and around £180 million of the gross budget goes towards council staff salaries, including teachers and school support staff.
Gill Lewis, the council’s interim chief officer for finance, performance and change, said the council has saved over £65m over the last 10 years, which marks a quarter of its budget.
She said the council’s savings over the last decade show it is a “very lean and efficient” authority.
“When we come to a time like this we do find ourselves really challenged in terms of trying to deliver services.”
The council is proposing to spend £127 million on education and family support next year, which will mostly be spent on the county borough’s 59 schools and one pupil referral unit.
It is also proposing to spend £74m on social care and wellbeing services and £21.8 million on the public realm which covers the maintenance of parks and open spaces, street cleaning, and collecting and disposing of waste.
Cabinet member for social services and early help Cllr Nicole Burnett said: “We really have no idea what’s coming and I’m nervous of what the impact of long Covid could be as we see much younger people perhaps in need of care packages in order to allow them to recover.”
A report by Ms Lewis states council tax collection rates are likely to fall due to increased use of the council tax reduction scheme.
Extra costs from public health issues such as the test, trace and protect service are also anticipated as well as homelessness and social care.
Income in leisure, car parking and rent are likely to be a medium term problem for council finances.
For 2021-22 the council is proposing to make savings by housing ICT staff and servers in the Civic Offices and not renewing the lease on Sunnyside House, to make an annual saving of £309,000.
A saving of £60,000 per year is also proposed by ending the lease for the Tythegston recycling site and investing in a new facility in Pyle.
Another saving of £300k is proposed in relation to asset management by transferring responsibility for the outdoor playing fields and pavilions, town and community councils and community clubs and groups.
Proposed staff savings in the Chief Executive’s Directorate alone total over £89,000 through delivering services such as HR and finance digitally. The council also plans to make savings on education and family support of around £110k by reviewing staffing structures.
Deputy council leader Hywel Williams said: “This is a very difficult time, we think we’ve got the balance just about right but obviously now this will pass to scrutiny.
“It really is one of our central priorities that we maintain our commitment to paying the real living wage for our employees.
“That certainly will be one of the focuses that we would like to maintain going forward.”
The authority aims to save £75k on home to school transport in 2021/22 and has reviewed post-16 school transport.
The report reads: “Wherever possible, staff restructuring will be done sympathetically allowing those that wish to leave to do so, but also making appropriate investments in home and agile working and digital technology to ensure the council is fit for the future.”
“Clearly budget planning for the financial year 2021-22 is even more uncertain than usual due to the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic, which is on top of the uncertainties around the end of the Brexit transition period.
“While, on the whole, the UK and Welsh Governments have been supportive of the initial additional costs and burdens that have emerged from Covid, and covered most of the directly incurred costs moving forward, it remains unclear how much of the loss of income and additional cost pressures will be covered in the 2021-22 financial year.
“Where possible, and still recognising the ongoing economic challenges that local people and businesses will face next year, the council will seek to raise additional income.
“However, there will be limited opportunities to do so given the immense challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the population. We will continue to look for opportunities where that might be possible.”
Words: Hannah Neary, Local Democracy Reporter
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