COUNCIL TAX: Bridgend Council approves 3.9 percent increase
Council tax will increase by 3.9% in Bridgend county borough from April.
Councillors voted in favour of the increase and making cuts to service and corporate budgets worth £1.76 million to achieve a balanced budget.
The increased council tax rate will cost residents living in Band D properties an extra £59 (at a total of £1,597).
The net budget requirement for the Labour-led council is £299 million and over £86 million is to be funded from council tax.
An Independent councillor proposed a budget freeze on council tax rates for the upcoming financial year, stating he was concerned about how increased rates could impact residents.
Cllr Alex Williams said the council tax increase is “inconsistent” with the values outlined in the council’s corporate plan.
Council leader Huw David said he “completely” understood Cllr Williams’ point and urged any resident struggling with council tax to contact the local authority.
He added that all of the 22 local authorities in Wales are considering increasing council tax rates for 2020/21, as are all councils in the UK.
Cllr David said the council had to increase council tax for the upcoming year otherwise it would need to do so the following year and it would be “irresponsible” of the council to use its reserves to fund a council tax freeze.
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%.
Its total directorate budget has been agreed at £250 million (education and family support – £127, million social services & wellbeing – £74 million, communities – £28 million, and chief executives – 21 million).
The 3.9% council tax increase approved earlier today, equates to 77p per week for a person living in a Band A property and £1.15 per week for a tenant in a Band D property.
The majority (62%) of properties in Bridgend county borough are below Band D.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales is increasing its precept by 5.5% next year, costing £15,631,672, which equates to a council tax of £287.72 on a Band D property.
The South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority is raising its levy on Bridgend by 4.37%, costing taxpayers £7.36 million.
Councillors attended a virtual meeting on Wednesday February 24 voting as follows on the 2021/22 budget:
For – 27
Against – 20
Abstentions – 4
Cllr Alex Williams said he “cannot believe” the council, “with a gross revenue budget of £435m can’t make £3m of efficiency savings in back office functions which do not affect the delivery of front line services.”
He said freezing council tax would “shield” residents in Bridgend “from an additional financial burden”.
“We live in extraordinary times and must be mindful of our constituents’ financial circumstances. I can’t in all consciousness leave a further burden on the residents of Pencoed and Heol y Cyw.”
Cllr David said the council has lost over 440 posts within the council and saved over £65 million in the last 10 years.
“We have made difficult decisions around services that people treasure and are important to people in the borough.
“We’ll continue to make difficult decisions and we’ll continue to make savings.”
The council aims to cut its total directorate services budget by £1.38 million by trimming £116,000 from education and family support, 315,000 from social services and wellbeing, £823,000 from communities and £130,000 from chief executives.
It also aims to reduce its total council wide budget by £376,000.
Cllr David said the council is unable to make savings beyond those in its budget report.
“If we could make those savings we would be bringing them to you here today.
“We have had additional funding from the Welsh Government, that is to be welcomed.
“However, we do not know what will happen in the future, we do not know what will happen in the next few months even in terms of our budget because we are still in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Cllr David said he “completely” understands Cllr Williams’ point about the council tax increase and its impact.
He urged any resident struggling with council tax to contact the local authority.
Conservative councillor Matthew Voisey said additional savings could have been made in the budget-setting process “by bringing forward some of the projects for future years”.
“There could have been additional savings brought forward but there was no will to do so.
“Whilst I understand the vital role the council plays in providing services, once again the taxpayers are paying for it through increased council taxes, which is nothing new during this administration.
“We all like to have low or zero council tax – that’s what we pledged in our election manifesto.
“We will try to keep to that when there’s Conservative administration in this council.”
“Perhaps Cllr Voisey has forgotten that when he was a member of the cabinet… every year the council tax went up as part of that Conservative coalition that ran the authority,” said Cllr David.
“It’s not that easy is it to balance a budget with a council tax freeze or a low council tax increase because if it had been that easy and it was that easy then I’m sure Cllr Voisey would have done it when he was a cabinet member.”
The leader said there is one Conservative-led local authority in South Wales (Monmouthshire) which is proposing to increase council tax by 4.9%.
Deputy leader Hywel Williams the council must balance its budget, which “protects” frontline services.
He said the authority has undergone ten years of austerity cuts and made £68m worth of reductions to services over the last 10 years.
There are more properties in Bridgend that fall below the council tax Band D threshold, according to Cllr H Williams, and the average price of a council tax bill in the area is £1,334.
He also said 20,000 households in Bridgend county borough will get assistance through the council tax reduction scheme.
The Blackmill representative said he is “proud” the local authority has committed to being a real living wage employer in 2020 and does not agree with the UK Gov’s proposed pay freeze for public sector workers.
The council is facing “much uncertainty” financially in terms of the ongoing pandemic, the impact of Brexit, and future inflation, he added.
Cllr Jane Gebbie said: “£3m worth of savings equates to about 100 back office staff.
“Throughout the last 11 years, local government has lost significant numbers of staff, particularly in the back office as we renegotiated the way we structured all our service provision.
“We can’t afford to lose anymore. I can’t just not vote for this budget. The reality for me as a ward member in Pyle is this budget will help us significantly.”
Gill Lewis, the council’s interim officer for finance, performance and change, said: “Never in all my career have I felt less certain about the foreseeable future in terms of the budget.”
The council will get its final settlement from Welsh Government on March 2.
Words: Hannah Neary, Local Democracy Reporter
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