The Cabinet of Bridgend County Borough Council has met to consider the results of its latest budget consultation, Shaping Bridgend’s Future.
The second of the council’s budget consultations to have been carried out under pandemic conditions, residents were this time asked to consider a longer-term vision for the county borough and the best way to support local businesses, tourism and the economy.
It also covered important areas such as investment in schools, roads, regeneration projects, energy schemes, sea defences, council tax, fees and charges, the development of online services and more.
To support the consultation, the council organised a range of events including full publicity and social media campaigns, video podcasts and more. However, continuing a trend also seen with the consultation carried out during the first year of the pandemic, a 39 per cent reduction was recorded in the number of people taking part.
Older people, tackling food poverty and dealing with homelessness emerged as the main areas people wanted to see prioritised for the future. In terms of where they wanted to see greater investment, regeneration projects, roads and schools came out on top.
Some areas drew conflicting results – 61 per cent of respondents said they wanted the council to return to face-to-face services, 63 per cent indicated that they preferred to access services locally, and 64 per cent said they would continue to access services online rather than at the Civic Offices.
The most popular long-term priorities involved making further in-house efficiencies, encouraging citizens to take more responsibility for things like litter and graffiti, and to focus on economic growth.
Participants favoured recycling and waste collection, highways and infrastructure, and parks, sports and recreation as the top three services they had received during the last 12 months, with 76 per cent stating that the recycling and waste service in particular had been delivered well or very well.
More than half of all respondents said they wanted to see a freeze on council tax, with some willing to support a council tax increase of up to 3.5 per cent in order to fund services. There was also support for reintroducing charges for some services and increasing fixed penalties for litter, fly-tipping and dog fouling – a move that the council has already confirmed is underway.
The Deputy Leader, Cllr Hywel Williams said: “Despite our best efforts, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is clearly continuing to affect efforts to encourage local people to engage with the budget consultation process. We remain confident that the survey sample remains large enough to reflect local views, and I would like to thank everyone who took the time to participate and provide their feedback.
“The overall tone of the feedback was that council performance has been ‘okay’ rather than good. This is something that I very much want to address in future budget consultations as analysis of the results has confirmed that while some helpful areas have been identified for prioritisation, there are also numerous issues which will require greater explanation in order to avoid future misunderstanding.
“For example, the feedback included calls for us to lower business rates amid claims that we have not supported town centres. But in reality, business rates are set by Welsh Government, not local authorities, and the council has provided and channelled huge levels of support towards traders and businesses since the pandemic began.
“I think that it is also important for people to recognise and accept that the council has been operating within extreme pressures throughout the pandemic. The crisis is not yet over – we are continuing to see huge pressures upon our services while dealing with multiple challenges, and are constantly having to reprioritise our resources in order to protect people from the pandemic’s wider impact.
“Going forward, I want more people to realise that in order to deliver 800 different types of service to communities throughout Bridgend County Borough, the council is legally required to produce an annual budget that is fully balanced, affordable, deliverable and in alignment with all relevant national policies.
“This is not an easy process, and it often requires some very difficult decisions. But the annual budget consultation plays an important role in that it helps us to ensure we deliver effective and efficient services which remain right for our communities, and we will now take account of this valuable feedback not only to inform the medium term financial strategy for 2022/23 – 2025/26, but to plan ahead for our next budget consultation as well.”