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Bridgend opposition members present alternative budget proposals

Bridgend County Borough Council's Civic Offices on Angel Street (Pic: Bridgend County Borough Council)

OPPOSITION members of Bridgend Council have outlined a number of changes they would like to see made to the authority’s budget before it is approved later in February.

The discussions came at a monthly cabinet meeting, and outlined the proposals which could include a potential rise in council tax by 9.5%, as well as a 5% cut to schools budgets, the closing of recycling centres across Bridgend for an additional day on the weekend, and a rise in general fees and charges.

There was also a proposal for the council to undertake a review of home-school transport, as well as controversial plans to close the Bridgend bus station based near the centre of the town.

The report given by scrutiny committee members came after officers said changes would be required if the authority was to set a balanced budget for the 2024-25 financial year, as well as making up for predicted budget reductions of more than £16m.

However, after a number of scrutiny sessions that were held in January, members said that some of the reductions could have a significant impact if they were given the go-ahead, instead offering a number of alternative proposals.

Firstly, they asked cabinet to hold off on a 5% cut to school budgets, after head teachers across the borough called the plans “horrific and unsustainable” adding that they could result in as much as 90% of schools recording deficit budgets in the next year.

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They provided suggestions to lessen the impact of this, by spreading the cuts across the next four financial years, with a maximum 2% cut each year until 2028.

They also asked that the council do all it could to reduce a council tax increase of 9.5%, as well as removing plans to close recycling centres for an additional day per week, and reconsidering any closure of the town’s bus station.

Additionally, recommendations were put forward to begin discussions with local town and community councils to see what support they could provide to help maintain cemeteries, along with emphasising the need to consider every opportunity to maximise income generation across the authority.

Speaking after the presentation to cabinet, Cllr Alex Williams of Pencoed and Penprysg said: “For me the process has demonstrated the best of the one council approach in trying our very best to provide constructive comments for cabinet to consider, and I’d like to thank all members for their contributions.”

Council leader Huw David said: “No-one can say that this budget hasn’t been heavily scrutinised, literally line by line, and we are grateful to our colleagues in the overview and scrutiny committee for the diligent work that they have undertaken in that role.

“Of course we will now take these recommendation away and give them the consideration and time that of course you’d expect us to give.”

Members of Bridgend Council’s cabinet will now consider the feedback over the coming weeks, as well as that from a public consultation, before approving a final budget for the 2024-25 financial year at the end of February.

Both officers and councillors have previously described the current budget setting process as one of the most difficult the local authority has ever faced, in the wake of a cost of living crisis and a predicted multi-million pound budget gap.