A councillor is concerned that members of the public may be given false hope over what appears to be an “extremely high” financial settlement increase received by a council.
Speaking at a Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) meeting, Independent Councillor for Maesteg East, Keith Edwards, expressed concern over peoples’ potential expectations after a 9.2 increase in funding from the Welsh Government.
In a report by the Chief Officer for Finance, Performance and Change, it was revealed that a large share of the increase in funding would go towards meeting certain spending obligations.
A number of ‘budget pressures’ have been revealed in relation to BCBC’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (2022 – 2026), including the funding of additional learning needs education and the need to pay a real living wage for social care staff.
In the Subject Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on January 24, Cllr Keith Edwards said: “A 9.2 percent increase is seen by members of the public as a massive win for Bridgend County Borough Council in light of the cuts we have had year on year.
“[The Chief Officer for Finance, Performance and Change] has identified where a lot of this money is to be spent in areas which we have no control. We have to cover increased costs in education and other payments.
“What is the actual percentage increase available to spend when all [these] costs are taken into consideration? Because members of the public are thinking that this is available money.”
In response to Cllr Edwards’s question, the Chief Officer for Finance, Performance and Change, Carys Lord, agreed that the 9.2 per cent increase sounds like a “very high headline figure for the council.”
She added: “When you add all of those [cost pressures] together, there is very little extra money available for the council, even though we have had that extremely high settlement for the year.”
The chief officer’s report highlighted that the “total of the budget pressures
identified for 2022-23 is £11.860 million” and that “there are already additional pressures identified for future years, of at least a further £3.6 million.”
It goes on to say that these are linked to price increases in relation to Covid-19 and Brexit.
It also says that a number of the pressures have arisen from contract renewals.
“Others are demographic or statutory in nature, and therefore unavoidable,” the report adds.
“There may be additional pressures arising over the coming months and consequently the total pressures requirement may change between draft and final budget.”
Cllr Edwards added: “People expect to see things done when they see increases of this size and councillors need to have answers to these questions.
“It doesn’t bode well for the future because these costs will continue and without increases of this magnitude, it doesn’t bode well at all.”
The more significant pressures faced by the council, according to the report, include:
- Costs of implementing the Additional Learning Needs Educational Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 (ALNET) and to meet additional demand on the Council’s special schools from Bridgend pupils
- The increased costs of home to school transport
- Increases in the older persons’ population, which “place additional pressures on adult social services”
- Increased costs in the Supported Living Service as a result of a recent tender
- Increased costs of commissioned services in the social care sector following the 6.6 per cent increase in the National Living Wage announced by the UK government.
Chief Executive of BCBC, Mark Shephard, said: “I just wanted to make the point to members that we are not seduced by that 9.2 per cent increase.
“Having said that, the settlement is more generous than anything we have seen for a decade and I suppose what it has therefore allowed is a recognition of the cost of living crisis by proposing that there is a zero percent council tax increase and meaning this year, again for the first year in as long as I can remember, there are very few if any service cuts.
“I think what members should do is regard it as a one off. It is a generous settlement that allows us to potentially not increase council tax [and] potentially not put any service cuts in, but I wouldn’t be seduced by the figure beyond that.”
The council will meet in February to make a decision on the budget proposals for 2022-23.
Conservatives’ Lack of Action on Obscene Energy Profits “Indefensible” says Welsh Lib Dems
New Audit Office Report on Poverty in Wales supports Plaid Cymru’s calls
Successful Operation targeting anti-social driving across Newport and Monmouthshire