A budget that seeks to support families, promote wellbeing and protect the most vulnerable members of the local community throughout the ongoing cost of living crisis has been approved for the coming financial year by Bridgend County Borough Council.
Termed ‘the Wellbeing budget’ by senior council members, it will mean that the local authority will have a gross revenue budget of £485m, a net budget of £342m and an additional capital investment programme of £69m for 2023-24.
In order to fund additional budget pressures and cover a funding shortfall of £8m, a council tax increase of 4.9 per cent – down from the previously suggested 6 per cent – has been agreed, which works out as the equivalent of an extra £1.50 a week on an average Band D property.
Increased funding of more than £12m will be invested into essential services provided by Social Services and Wellbeing for 2023-24, talking the directorate’s overall budget up to £92.79m.
This will include £26m for services aimed at older people, £24.1m for children’s social care, £21m for adults with learning disabilities and £5.7m 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 £5.5m will support adults with physical disabilities and sensory impairments, and £5.2m will be used for the management and provision of services aimed at adults. A further £4.8m will be directed towards helping adults who have mental health needs.
A total of £692,000 will be invested into updating and improving telecare services for local people – a project that helps people to live independently at home by using latest technology to monitor their wellbeing and help keep them safe.
The council is also continuing to invest in the social care workforce, with ongoing recruitment campaigns encouraging staff to enjoy a strong work-life balance while receiving full support and flexibility in their roles, training and development opportunities, prospects for career progression and more.
Services provided by the Education and Family Support Directorate will receive more than £137m of the overall budget, with £110m going directly to schools to support running costs, teacher and staff salaries and more.
While around £40,000 is being saved by delegating some transport responsibilities to providers, schools are also being asked to accommodate savings of £2.1m for 2023-24. At the same time, the council intends to invest an additional £7.3m into schools to fund all school pay and cost inflation pressures.
A £26.9m capital investment will enable the council to provide improvements which include a £1.6m new teaching block at Bryntirion Comprehensive, £950,000 for extensions at Coety and Pencoed primary schools, and £1.1m for Welsh medium childcare provision in Bridgend and Porthcawl.
With more than £1.9m to support the ongoing refurbishment of school kitchens and the rollout of free school meals, £386,000 will be invested in an all-weather sports pitch at Brynteg School, and £220,000 to provide high-quality mobile classrooms at Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Ogwr.
The council has already spent £21.6m in building and refurbishing schools as part of Band A of its 21st Century School Modernisation programme, and has committed to a further £19m as part of Band B. More than £10.5m has been assigned for Band B schools in 2023-24, along with £3,300 for associated highways schemes.
Abercerdin Primary School will receive £267,000 to establish a new learning hub, and £71,000 will be invested in traffic safety work around local schools. Schools will also receive more than £3.9m through the capital maintenance grant, while £548,000 will support work to help them develop more facilities that can be shared with the local community.
Elsewhere, services provided by the Communities directorate will receive £30.55m in addition to more than £30.3m capital investments throughout the year.
This will include £1.7m for continuing to upgrade children’s playgrounds and make them more accessible, £1m for highways refurbishment, and £2.9m for ongoing regeneration in Porthcawl, plus £520,000 for the Cosy Corner development.
Other investments will include £1.5m for the Maesteg Town Hall Cultural Hub development and £400,000 for the 2030 Decarbonisation Programme, which will play a key part in helping the council achieve net zero carbon status by 2030.
Cllr Hywel Williams, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “When you consider the council has already covered a £72m shortfall in core funding since 2010-11, finding further savings while setting a fully balanced budget amid increased pressures has been an incredible challenge.
“I believe that we have achieved this, and that we have delivered a realistic, fair budget which prioritises people’s wellbeing at a time when everyone is feeling the pressures of modern life.
“We have kept the council tax increase as low as possible, and have found savings by switching to LED street lights, renting out wings at Ravens Court, closing recycling centres for one day per week, charging blue badge holders for parking, and slightly increasing the charge for opt-in services such as bulk waste collection and garden waste recycling.
“This has not been an easy process, and I am grateful to everyone who has played a part in helping to ensure that Bridgend County Borough council can continue to provide essential services for 2023-24.”
The Leader, Cllr Huw David added: “I have already stated on record that this has been the single most challenging budget that I have ever been involved in setting, but I am proud of the way in which it seeks to support families, promote wellbeing and protect the most vulnerable.
“This budget achieves this while also contending with pressures such as the ongoing cost of living crisis, huge rises in demand for essential services, a massive 10 per cent rise in inflation and increasing difficulties in sourcing materials and resources.
“In setting it, we have learned from best practice, have both lobbied for and received a fair settlement from Welsh Government, and have taken the proposals through multiple meetings of the all-parties Budget Research And Evaluation Panel, scrutiny, Corporate Management Board, a wide-ranging public consultation and more.
“This ‘Wellbeing budget’ has been recognised as one that remains ambitious while also being firmly grounded in reality. It has been crafted to reflect the priorities, pressures and concerns of local people, and to remain fit for purpose throughout the year ahead.
“No matter what fresh challenges we may be presented with in 2023-24, this budget ensures that we will be prepared, ready and able to meet them head-on.”