Council sets its budget for 2024-25

Bridgend County Borough Council has agreed a new budget for 2024-25 amid what the Leader, Cllr Huw David has described as being ‘some of the biggest challenges that local government has ever faced’.

With a gross revenue budget of £520m, a net revenue budget of £359.7m, an additional capital investment budget of £110.5m and a council tax increase of 9.5 per cent, the total amount of savings that the council will need to find for the year will be just over £13m.

A planned reduction in school funding has decreased from a proposed 5 per cent to 3 per cent, and Cabinet has agreed that schools will receive additional money to help meet pay and price pressures which could reach as high as £5m, meaning an overall cash increase for the year.

Proposals for closing Bridgend bus station have been removed, and planned cuts to funding for street cleaning, recycling centres, community centres, play areas, support for children with additional needs, and support to help the third sector deal with hospital discharges have all been avoided.

With £103m to directly support schools with running costs, teacher and staff salaries and more, services provided by Education and Family Support will receive more than £30m of the budget.

 This will include £6.8m to provide essential support for learners, £3.8m for services which help local families and £3.87m for the school modernisation programme which is dedicated towards improving and enhancing educational facilities across the county borough.

As part of the £110.5m capital investment programme, the council will provide modern replacement premises for schools such as Heronsbridge (£23.2m), Mynydd Cynffig Primary (£9.2m) and Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Ogwr (£10.1m).

The capital investment programme includes £2.3m for classroom extensions at Pencoed and Coety primary schools.

It also includes £2.1m for enabling greater community use of school facilities, £1.5m for a new teaching block at Bryntirion Comprehensive, £1.1m for Welsh-medium childcare provision in Bridgend and Porthcawl, just over £1m for the ongoing rollout of the free school meals initiative, and more.

Social Services and Wellbeing will receive almost £105m to provide essential services for 2024-25. This will include £29.5m for services aimed at older people, £27.6m for children’s social care, £25m for adults with learning disabilities and £5.8m for services which look after people’s wellbeing, preserve their independence and prevent them from needing further support for as long as possible.

More than £5.9m will support adults with physical disabilities and sensory impairments, and £4.8m will be used for the management and provision of services aimed at adults. A further £5.3m will be directed towards helping adults who have mental health needs.

Capital investment into the directorate for the year will include £395,000 for Telecare services to support people at home and help keep them safe, and £108,000 for enhanced facilities at Ogmore Valley Life Centre.

The Communities directorate will receive more than £30m which will be used to provide services such as cleaner streets, recycling and waste services (£12.9m), highways and green spaces (£11.5m) and supporting the local economy and natural resources (£1.4m).

Communities will also benefit from a number of capital investments throughout the year, including £4.6m for the shared prosperity fund which supports community regeneration, £2.8m for the ongoing upgrade of children’s playgrounds, and a £2.3m investment into fleet vehicles.

 With £1m for a highways refurbishment programme, £521,000 will be invested into highways structural improvements, £400,000 for new street lighting columns and works to strengthen river bridges, and £250,000 for carriageway improvements.

 Elsewhere, services covered under the Chief Executive’s directorate will receive £22.4m including £3.48m for housing and homelessness and £5.7m for the council’s legal, democratic and regulatory services, while £59m will be spent on council-wide budgets covering areas such as the council tax reduction scheme, discretionary rate relief, insurance budgets, pay and price increases and more.

 Other significant capital investments for the year ahead include £10.6m for the ongoing redevelopment of Porthcawl’s Grand Pavilion, and £1.7m for disabled facilities grants to help support people within their own homes.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Huw David said: “The national funding crisis which is affecting councils all across the UK has forced us to make some particularly tough decisions for 2024-25, and I think it is important for people to understand why we, and every other council, now find ourselves in this position.

“After the UK Government initiated national austerity measures in 2010, councils were forced to spend more than a decade trying to provide services using constantly shrinking resources. They achieved this through a mix of cutting budgets, increasing charges and council tax, dropping some non-statutory services altogether or developing new initiatives such as our Community Asset Transfer programme.

“Recent research from Cambridge Econometrics highlights how the situation worsened following Brexit in 2020, and that this in turn has led us directly into the current Cost Of Living crisis. The global pandemic also played its part in that we have seen massive increases in the numbers of people who are presenting as homeless or in need of social services’ support.

“Put all of these things together within such a short period of time, and you have a recipe for the funding crisis that we are now dealing with.

“In setting the budget for 2024-25, we have once again prioritised our most vulnerable residents and have taken great care to ensure that we can continue to provide vital services over the next 12 months, but I cannot emphasise enough just how difficult the situation is.

 “Make no mistake, local government is in the grip of a national funding crisis, and some of the biggest challenges that councils have ever faced. Urgent action needs to be taken on a national scale to remedy this now, well before the next round of budget planning has to begin for 2025-26.”

 Cllr Hywel Williams, Cabinet Member for Resources, added: “We have faced unprecedented pressures in setting this budget, and are grateful to everyone who took part in the consultation and scrutiny process which drew more than 2,839 responses and 40 cross-party recommendations.

 “While we have incorporated as much of this feedback as possible, it is important to note that some suggestions were unworkable or did not deliver the required savings or revenue. As a result, not all of it could be used as it would have created an unbalanced budget, which we are legally required to avoid.

“In an ideal world, we would not have to cut budgets or increase council tax in order to sufficiently fund vital services such as social services and education. Unfortunately, this is the reality that we must face, and we cannot shy away now that difficult decisions have to be made.

“While local government funding continues to face a difficult and uncertain future, I want to reassure residents that Bridgend County Borough Council will continue to fight and advocate on your behalf, and to do everything within our power to find new and innovative ways of delivering essential services as we move into 2024-25 and beyond.”