Let's Talk - Together We Are NPT
Welcome to Let's Talk NPT.
Council approves budget 2023-24
Neath Port Talbot Council met on 2 March 2023 and set its budget for 2023-24. More than £500m, including grants and other income, will be spent next year on vital services that affect the lives of over 140,000 residents.
Important Background Information
Just like households, the cost of living crisis and rise in inﬂation is having a big impact on the council’s budget.
Our energy costs are rising, the national living wage is increasing by 10%, our share towards the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Authority budget will increase by £1.1 million, and the cost of providing placements for children with additional learning needs will increase. At the same time, the pandemic has caused increased demand for some council services, while income for others has reduced.
Our budget consultation
By law, councils have to set a balanced budget which means we can’t spend more than we receive, so we had to find ways to close the budget gap.
For three weeks, from 19 January to 10 February 2023, we asked for feedback on a set of draft proposals to close the budget gap of around £24m. Unlike other councils in Wales, we did not propose any reduction to our services or job losses.
Almost 1,000 people got involved in the consultation and what you told us helped shape the final budget. Many responses confirmed that some of the things we proposed are what people would expect us to do, e.g. reduce energy costs and look at how many buildings we have.
There were also some new ideas that we are still looking at in detail.
We set five objectives for the budget this year:
- Maintaining a clear focus on recovery from Covid-19
- Supporting our communities through the cost of living crisis
- Facilitating and enabling economic growth by working with investors
- Delivering local and Welsh Government policy priorities
- To do all of this whilst ensuring that the council is sustainable going forward
There was a high level of support for these, but some people asked why we are still talking about Covid.
The Covid pandemic is still having an effect on the council, council services, residents and our communities. We expect this to continue for quite some time.
Social Services, Housing and Education are seeing much higher volumes of demand, together with an increase in the complexity of need. It is not yet clear when the rise in demand will peak, but it is crucial that we remain focused on supporting people who are affected.
Some of our young people and children are struggling with education as result of the pandemic, so there is a need for more support for schools and joint working with children services and education, and schools.
During the pandemic a large number of council staff were redeployed to respond to the impacts of the virus, e.g. the construction of field hospitals, testing centres and a vaccination centre, as well as large numbers of staff to deliver the Test Trace and Protect (TTP) service. This caused backlogs in some council services. Staff have made significant progress in dealing with these backlogs, but they remain in some areas.
This additional demand creates extra costs for the council, whilst income levels have reduced, this is particularly affecting theatres, car parks and leisure services, where the number of paying customers has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Key points about next year’s budget
We will use £4.9m of council reserves next year. This includes £3.5m of general reserves to balance the budget and cover the growth in demand for services.
It also includes £1.4m from specific reserves to help meet the cost of running indoor leisure services while we look at some options to address the rise in costs since February 2022, when the decision was taken to return these (currently run by Celtic Leisure) to the council’s direct management.
This will rise by 4.5%, meaning that residents in Bands A to C (the vast majority in Neath Port Talbot) will pay between 96p and £1.28p extra per week.
Why the rise? - The rise is needed to fund the increase in fire service costs and keep indoor leisure services open (over and above the £1.4 million from reserves). A business plan will be developed to reduce the amount of subsidy for indoor leisure required from council tax in future years. If the council had not decided to use almost £5m from reserves this year, the rise in council tax could have been as high as 14%.
What about people who can’t afford to pay? - Following the consultation, we have agreed to put in place some additional things to help people as much as we can, including:
- Extra welfare rights advisers for two years to provide more help and make it easier for residents to find out what they are entitled to and how to access it.
- Making means testing and assessment faster and simpler, taking a ‘tell us once’ approach to signpost people to other entitlements.
- Looking at ways to speed up payments for some small businesses who sometimes wait up to two months after submitting an invoice under the current system.
- Further work with partners to address debt management and recovery.
Fees and Charges
The original proposal for a 10% rise in fees and charges (in line with inflation) was amended after the consultation, and the following was agreed:
- Where fees and charges are in the control of the council, some will rise by 5%
- Pest control fees will not rise, they will be frozen at 2022-23 levels.
- A £200k income target for car parking has been agreed and options for achieving this will be developed.
- Some fees and charges are not controlled by the council, so these will rise in line with what Welsh Government decides.
- We will carry out a review of our fees and charges in 2023-24 to see how they compare with competitors and other councils. We will also look at the possibility of bringing in a variable fees and charges structure in some areas to support residents and people who are on means tested benefits.
Because of the continuing uncertainty around energy, the following has been agreed:
- The original proposal for a £2.8m ‘energy transition budget’ to cover energy efficiency measures and transition to renewables will be extended to act as a contingency for energy costs if they remain at a high level next year.
- We will work with head teachers to introduce them to the organisation Energy Sparks (some schools in England and Wales have been able to achieve a 10% reduction in consumption through this initiative).
- We are working with The Institute of Public Lighting to carry out a review of our street lighting to see how we might be able to reduce consumption.
- Five satellite office buildings will close and staff will move into the main civic buildings, so savings will be made by not having to heat and light those. We will continue with our accommodation review next year and work with key partners to re-purpose any buildings that are surplus to requirement.
Additional support for schools
There will be an increase in the delegated schools fund of £7.64m / 8% (the council’s provisional settlement from the Welsh Government is 7.1%).
It has also been agreed that we will provide more support for schools, including support for some of our most vulnerable young people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic. The aim is to improve engagement in learning and attendance, and reduce the number of young people excluded from education, while raising aspirations and strengthening links with families and communities.
The Social Services, Health and Housing fund will rise by £13.8m / 15% (compared with 7.1% provided by Welsh Government’s Provisional Settlement).
Thank you for having your say
You can read the full budget report here.