Earlier today, after an extensive public consultation, councillors from all parties met to finalise the Council budget for the forthcoming financial year, 2019-20.
The process has not been a simple one with the need to find cuts of £12.2m by March 2020 with a total of £64.6m savings required by 2023. Coming on top of the £80m cuts to the Council’s budget since 2010, austerity is clearly not over for public services in Wales, despite what might already have been said elsewhere.
Since we announced initial proposals back in October, the strong lobbying of central government has also seen the burden eased slightly by an increased funding allocation from Welsh Government of £2.4m. Whilst this is a welcome move in the right direction, it provides only a little room for manoeuvre, given the overall context of the challenges facing us. Unfortunately, the basic premise of austerity is still well and truly with us in all its unseemly glory.
We have had three times the number of responses to our budget consultation this year than we did last and, within the tough constraints of shrinking resources yet increasing demands, we have been determined to listen to and act upon the views expressed by residents. A big thank you is due to everyone who took the time and effort to come forward and make their voices heard.
As a result, there have been a number of changes to the Council’s initial proposals in line with the priorities expressed by the Neath Port Talbot public during that consultation, including:
- An extra £475k this year to keep our streets cleaner, safer and greener.
- A 4.5% increase in the budget for schools so that all of our young people can continue to have the opportunity to get the best start in life.
- A total of £2m added to social services provision to underpin the increasing demand.
Whilst the remainder of the other saving proposals are largely unchanged, we have been able to withdraw several which have caused the greatest concern including changes to four of our local libraries, the ending of the Schools Music Service, and the phasing out of the Council’s Welfare Rights Advice team.
Similarly, we have been able to reduce the planned increase in Council Tax bills from 5% to 4%. This year’s increase is the 3rd lowest percentage rise out of the 22 local authorities across Wales. It is the intention of this administration to keep any uplifts as low as we possibly can whilst at the same time protecting our key frontline services.
When all is said and done, that leaves a total Council Budget for 2019/20 of £288m with the main areas of expenditure being Education, Lifelong Learning and Leisure (£109.1m), Social Services & Care (£79.7m), Environmental & Streetcare (£37.5m) and the contribution towards the Mid & West Wales Fire Service (£7.4m).
This year’s budget setting has not been easy and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future. However, we will continue to work closely with our residents and partner organisations to deliver the best services that we can, for those people who need them the most.
Cllr Rob Jones