On Friday, 15th February 2019, Blaenau Gwent Council set its Budget for 2019/20. The Council is planning to invest almost £160million into running services for the people of Blaenau Gwent, with the emphasis on maintaining the frontline services that matter to our residents such as education & schools; Social Services (children’s & adult services) and environmental services such as waste & recycling and street cleansing.
This year’s revenue settlement from the Welsh Government was a cash flat settlement. However due to pressures arising from inflation; staff salary costs; and increased demand and costs for services the Council still needed to find over £3million in savings.
Almost half of these savings were achieved through proposals and major service reviews agreed in January 2018. All services were then asked to come forward with further savings which were considered by councillors when they met.
We again consulted with local people in relation to the Budget and our spending priorities. We received over 600 responses to a survey which asked people to list what they believe our priorities should be when it comes to the Budget. Over half of those who responded said that schools were the top priority for investment; followed by Social Services (Children) & then Adults; waste and recycling, street cleaning and infrastructure such as highways and transport.
Schools funding continues to be protected. Councillors approved the transfer of additional funding of £619,000 from the Welsh Government straight into schools to help with increases in staff salaries and Free School Meals. In addition the council agreed a further £151,000 of funding for the expected increase in pupil numbers. This actually gives schools a 1.5% uplift in their funding.
A Council Tax increase of 4.9% was approved - this equates to an increase of £1 a week increase for a Band A and a £1.15p a week increase for Band B households. Due to the high number of properties in these lower band properties (85%), what people actually pay for their Council Tax is the third lowest average in Wales. The rise is expected to be in line with the average or proposed increases across Wales.
The Council also made provision in the Budget to start returning funds to its General Reserves in order to provide financial resilience going forward.