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Coping with £64m funding gap will not be easy.

Central government inspired austerity, increased demand for services and rising costs are all conspiring to create an even more difficult than usual Council budget setting process this year.

Early indications are that on top of £72m cuts that have already been implemented since 2010, a funding gap of £15.3m for 2019/20 with a total budgetary hole of £63.9m between now and 2023 will see a vastly different level of service provision to that which residents have previously taken for granted.

By the end of the current administration, £1 in every £4 invested by the Council in day-to-day services in Neath Port Talbot will have to be eliminated from the expenditure column with the inevitable effect that it will have on our key frontline services that many people rely upon.

As harsh as it sounds, the old mantra that we should "do more for less", the reality on the ground is that the Council can only now "do less for less".

From a total budget of £282.8m this year, £105.5m (37.7%) went on Education, Leisure & Lifelong Learning; £78.6m (27.8%) on Social Services, Health & Housing; £34.7m (11.9%) on Environmental Services with the remainder on things like Finance & Corporate Services, Capital Financing and Council Tax Support.  £7.2m (2.6%) went straight to the Mid & West Wales Fire Service to pay towards their work in the County Borough.

To take over £60m out of that list is no easy feat but it is one that councillors and residents will have to face up to in an honest and realistic way.

And that will see a different sort of relationship between the Council and the public, where individuals and communities begin to take more responsibility and where in many cases, the Council will provide people with a "leg up" rather than a "handout" to build provision in their own areas.

We will continue to deliver the key services that people rely on but, at the same time, we will be asking residents to play their part to ease unnecessary demands on the public purse and help make things more cost effective and efficient.  From increasing levels of recycling to spending more money in the local economy, from getting more involved in the life of their community to using more of our services online, the required budget saving can only be achieved by residents stepping up to the plate - not just the Council.

In return, we will continue to cut red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy, pursue income generation opportunities, engage in collaboration with neighbouring authorities and others to deliver extra value for taxpayers money and increase the speed of our own digitalisation of internal and external processes.

The Council is only in the early stages of its budget process with more announcements to be made in the Autumn when consultation will start in earnest. Between now and then, other factors that will affect what we will be able to do will hopefully become clearer including Brexit and the changes in regional funding, the allocation of funding that the Council gets from the Welsh Government and the outcome of pay settlements for our hardworking staff.

We should be under no illusion though that the next few years will see a much changed level of public service provision to what the communities of Neath Port Talbot have been used to, even as recently as just a few years ago.

Councillor Carol Clement-Williams

Cabinet Member for Finance