Councillors in Blaenau Gwent have today agreed a Budget for 2023/24, following widespread engagement with residents on savings ideas and spending priorities.
The Council had earlier warned of difficult decisions about services following its financial settlement from the Welsh Government, which at 6.5% is significantly below the All Wales increase of 7.9%. Like all organisations, the Council is facing some well-publicised financial pressures, despite increased funding from Welsh Government to almost £140 million, due to the global pandemic, cost pressures, rising inflation, soaring energy and fuel costs and social care demands.
As a result, the funding gap for next year’s Budget is £ 6.6 million.
Leader, Cllr Steve Thomas, said councillors had listened to and considered residents’ concerns about savings proposals when preparing to debate and set the Budget at Full Council today. A range of savings, efficiencies and income-generating projects worth just over £3million was agreed upon at the meeting to close the budget gap, as well as a draw on reserves of £ 4.3 million. A number of proposals which would have affected frontline services valued by residents were rejected by councillors.
Schools in the borough are to receive a 4.2% uplift in funding after councillors voted to increase this to take into account the cost pressures they face as they recover from the pandemic.
A 3.45% increase in Council Tax was also agreed upon, although the final Council Tax will be set on Monday, 6 March, to consider precepts from the police; and town and community councils.
Leader, Cllr Steve Thomas, says:
“We have always been open and honest about the significant financial challenges the Council faces and how that can sometimes lead to unpopular decisions. Over the past few weeks, we have engaged with our residents and gathered their views about our plans for saving and raising money. We had an unprecedented response to our budget survey, and I’d like to thank everyone who took part, as it’s crucial for people to be involved in local democracy.
“I believe the Budget we have set today is as fair and balanced as we could make it. Once again, we have looked to protect the most critical services and the most vulnerable people in our communities. We have also listened to views from our residents who had strong opinions about some of the proposals put forward. We have attempted to keep Council Tax as low as possible in light of the unprecedented challenges that all Councils currently face.”
“The challenge does not just go away, however. The next few years will continue to be difficult for us financially, and we are already planning for this by developing and implementing sustainable strategic business reviews to address future funding gaps.”
- A total of 3,740 budget survey questionnaires were returned to the council, with all but four being valid for analysis. This means a valid response of 3,736, which equates to over 5.5% of the area’s population.
- Respondents were asked to consider a list of services and outline their top two priorities for budget setting. There was clear stand out priority for schools (46%). The second most prioritised service was social services for children (33%) and then social services for vulnerable adults and the elderly (31%). These were closely followed by Environmental services such as waste, recycling and cleansing (30%).