Despite a 0.5% reduction in funding from Welsh Government (the worst settlement of all the Welsh councils) and existing cost pressures, the Council is facing a much reduced funding gap of £3.3million. The initial funding gap facing the Council was over £6million and this funding gap has been significantly reduced by the Council reviewing and agreeing a revised long term loan repayment policy. The Council is also looking to fund cost pressures of £3million as demand for services and social services in particular continue to increase. In total, there was £4.2million worth of savings proposals on the table for councillors to assess and decide which to implement at its meeting on Thursday, 25th January. Although this allowed councillors some flexibility, the savings required will mean reductions to staff numbers and changing or stopping services.
Under the agreed Budget the Council will not need to draw from its general reserves in order to balance the books and Education, Community Services and Social Services funding will be protected, with Schools seeing an increase of 1%. Education and raising standards for children and young people remains a top priority for the Council. The Council would also be making a commitment to pay all staff at least the Foundation Living Wage and there is funding in place to meet the proposed pay offer for all non-teaching staff.
Although Council Tax will not be formally set until February – councillors agreed an increase of 4.2%, generating an additional income of £1.3million. Council Tax bands are based on property values. A high percentage of properties (almost 85%) within Blaenau Gwent fall within the lower A and B bands, which means that Blaenau Gwent residents pay one of the lowest average levels of Council Tax in Wales.
There are also already a number of savings proposals in the pipeline for the 2019/20 Budget as the Council gets on the front foot with financial planning for the future. Some of these proposals will be subject to more detailed consultations with the local community.
The Council is reviewing its Medium Term Financial Strategy up to 2022 setting out how further reductions in the Budget will be managed through strategic service reviews, introducing alternative and more efficient service delivery models and developing a more commercial approach to service delivery and opening up new streams of income.
Leader of Blaenau Gwent Council, Cllr Nigel Daniels says:
“It is not easy to set a Budget when you have the worst financial settlement of any Welsh council and tough decisions have had to be made about how services are delivered. Our priorities are the protection of Social Services, Education and developing a clean living environment, services which we know through dialogue with our residents are important to them and the Budget agreed by the Council today protects these services.
“The Council has had to plan for a funding gap of £6 million following a reduction in its Grant from Welsh Government and increased service cost pressures. This has meant finding significant savings from across the Council to bridge the gap, whilst also investing £3 million into social services, schools and environmental services, to deal with increases in demand for these services.
“There will be an increase in funding to schools and more money for lower paid workers through the introduction of the Foundation Living Wage for our workforce. The Council will not have to use its reserves to balance the budget next year and this is important to ensure we have a stronger financial position going forward as we will inevitably face more cuts in our funding in the future. Council Tax will have to increase but at 4.2% we hope this will be one of the more modest increases in Wales. Overall this is a fair budget given the difficult settlement and pressures on our services.”
- The 4.2% rise in Council Tax equates to 81p a week for a Band A property and 95p per week for a Band B property (almost 85% of Blaenau Gwent properties are in Band A and B).