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Council approves 9.5% council tax rise in Bridgend

The Council Chambers In Bridgend (Pic: Bridgend Council)

COUNCIL tax will rise by 9.5% in Bridgend as the council approved its final budget for 2024-25.

The approval came after intense and lengthy scrutiny at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, February 28, where officers and cabinet members described the difficulties they faced while setting a balanced budget for the coming year.

Notably, it will include a 9.5% council tax increase, as well as a 3% cut to school budgets, though some members in the chamber said they felt this would be taking the county backwards, as costs went up while services were being cut.

The budget for 2024-25 comprises a gross revenue budget of £520m, a net revenue budget of £359.7m, and an additional capital investment budget of £110.5m.

It will include funding of £105m for the social services and wellbeing directorate, £30m for communities, £22m for chief executives/administration, and £113m for schools.

Officers said the increased council tax was kept within the plans because of “unprecedented financial pressures”, as well as increased demands for services, and real-terms funding from the Welsh Government remaining below the cost of inflation.

Councillor Sean Aspey said he wanted to show his displeasure with the increase, though deputy leader Jane Gebbie said the budget was the best available option, while councils across Wales were “in the eye of an inflationary storm”.

Other councillors questioned if the budget was deliverable, given a £10m in-year overspend 2023-24, and a number of potential risks highlighted within the latest version.

Officers responded by saying the current overspend would be met by both earmarked and general reserves, adding they were confident the budget was deliverable, particularly as there was an additional £1m contingency fund available.

In terms of changes from earlier drafts of the plans, one of the most notable focused on a reduction of 3% to the schools budget, instead of the 5% that was originally discussed.

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Proposals to close Bridgend bus station have also been removed from the papers, along with cuts to funding for street cleaning, and the closure of recycling centres for an additional day at the weekend.

Speaking after the meeting council leader Huw David said: “In setting the budget for 2024-25, we have once again prioritised our most vulnerable residents and have taken great care to ensure that we can continue to provide vital services over the next 12 months, but I cannot emphasise enough just how difficult the situation is.

“Make no mistake, local government is in the grip of a national funding crisis, and some of the biggest challenges that councils have ever faced. Urgent action needs to be taken on a national scale to remedy this now, well before the next round of budget planning has to begin for 2025-26.”

Councillor Hywel Williams, added: “We have faced unprecedented pressures in setting this budget, and are grateful to everyone who took part in the consultation and scrutiny process which drew more than 2,839 responses and 40 cross-party recommendations.

“While we have incorporated as much of this feedback as possible, it is important to note that some suggestions were unworkable or did not deliver the required savings or revenue. As a result, not all of it could be used as it would have created an unbalanced budget, which we are legally required to avoid.

“In an ideal world, we would not have to cut budgets or increase council tax in order to sufficiently fund vital services such as social services and education. Unfortunately, this is the reality that we must face, and we cannot shy away now that difficult decisions have to be made.”

The budget was passed after a vote of 26 members to 20 with two abstentions.

It was moved alongside a capitol budget worth £110m, which included a number of projects such as the Porthcawl Grand Pavilion development, and highway refurbishments. It will also provide replacement premises for schools such as Heronsbridge, Mynydd Cynffig Primary, and Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Ogwr.