Bridgwater Town Council sets budget for 2019-20

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Bridgwater Town Council passes budget for 2019-20

At tonight’s meeting of Bridgwater Town Council, Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) laid out plans for the 2019-20 budget saying “Bridgwater Town Council has now reached the end of its 4 year term of office and elections are due in May 2019 for the next group of councillors to take forward.  During this period Bridgwater Town Council has further expanded our reach into the community and sought to work with the people of Bridgwater, service providers such as Clean Surroundings, Social Services, Transport bodies, the Police and, where possible, Sedgemoor District Council.”

Town Council Leader Brian Smedley

Cllr Smedley continued “During this term of office Local Government has been hit badly by the austerity policies of Central Government and many areas have been devastated. This is certainly the case locally with regard to Somerset County Council, who, despite the writing being on the wall from their own party colleagues, failed to take the necessary safeguarding decisions and are now suffering accordingly. As part of the austerity measures, the Government has year by year reduced its support Grant to Local Authorities and this has now finally ended altogether. The grant in 2017/18 was £45,130, for 2018/19 was £21,987 and in 2019/20 this will be NIL. Bridgwater Town Council is the smallest of all 3 local authorities but we believe it is the closest to the people and that we punch above our weight and aspire to do even more so. Accordingly we have maintained strong reserves which we have used to support key projects in the town and to attract matched funding, we have raised our precept modestly each year to maintain growth in our budget and we have targeted our spending at key grassroots  local services including those which have been rejected and neglected by the senior councils at both District and County level.”

Continuation Budget

Mears
New Town Clerk David Mears

Our policy has been to run a Continuation Budget – i.e. keep what we have in the budget from last year. This means NO CUTS. The Continuation Budget during the four year period of office of this Council has meant the continued inclusion in the budget of our key growth items for Youth, Quayside Festival, Rollercoaster, our Community Centres including the Arts Centre and Town Team. This year we have taken the initiative of producing our first town tourism brochure which is now circulating far and wide across the UK and beyond and reflects our confidence in the future of our town.”

New Town clerk

“This year we have also seen a change of Town Clerk and with that a new way of operating so we have made some adjustments to budget to facilitate this, including a staff and office review, new work practices, new IT systems, training and wider LA memberships giving us greater influence within the wider world of local government. Costs were identified and approved at a special Finance Committee of 18 December 2018 and these have now been incorporated into the budget”

Modest Precept

killarney
Bridgwater -punching above it’s weight

“Bridgwater’s precept is very low both in National terms (2,474th). Even in Sedgemoor, Brent Knoll, Cheddar, Nether Stowey & Burnham/Highbridge are above us. A comparative town like Yeovil has a higher precept of 104.01 on a similar tax base while a smaller town like Frome has a precept of 144.33 on a lower tax base “

Growing Tax Base

“Bridgwater has been helped by our growing tax base – In 2018-19 it was 9,720.82 @56.5 raising £549,226 and now for 2019-20 we have an assumed tax base of 10,014.6. BTC has a policy of maintaining a gradual managed year by year modest increase in precept and so this year we will raise our precept to 59.51 thereby acquiring a figure of £596,000 “

Environment savings

Kathy Pearce fronting the environment negotiations

“We will, in balancing our budget, be making some savings through adjustments. The Finance Committee asked the Chair to look at a temporary year end ‘Small Grants’ freeze which has saved some £26,412 .I then asked service heads to look at areas to further re-cost. This rationalises figures and sees further savings of £12,251 from the grant budget for 2019/20. A key area in this respect has been identified within the Environment Portfolio which involves reviewing our contribution to the Penel Orlieu toilets thereby saving some £14,320 and the terms of the bins, benches and street cleaning arrangements with SDC saving a further £13,855. Cllr Pearce will be meeting with SDC to discuss these on 24th January and come to an accommodation which ensures SDC is meeting its obligations of delivery while we are paying a fair contribution for the service that we get.”

Reserves maintained

“The Town Council’s Civic Enhancement Fund currently stands at £186,000.  This figure needs to be maintained and targeted 1) for matched CIM bids, which we need for key projects, plus 2) any emergency and unforeseen projects and circumstances. Pressure on the budget meant that the Finance committee authorised ‘use of reserves if necessary’, however, the budget has been balanced this year with no recourse to reserves

BAC
Bridgwater Art Centre in Castle street is the Countries oldest Art Centre dating from 1946

We have a new, additional and very welcome source of extra funding. The CIL fund is a levy from developers which can now be deployed in our town. This currently stands at £26,605.05 and is projected to increase by £75,000 in 2019-20 and again similarly in 2020-21. This important new fund is targeted at heritage and infrastructure projects. We can now use this to consolidate and develop our key heritage infrastructure facilities within the town. We will now seek to identify possible priorities for this spend which can’t be funded elsewhere. Items for immediate consideration will include the historic Arts Centre building in Castle street, based on the current conditions survey, and we will also enter into initial and very tentative negotiations with the owners SDC along with the BAC board of directors to ascertain possible repair costs, best uses of resources and outcomes plus future ownership and operational options, plus The Town Hall , where we will seek to bring the upper floors into community use now that we have installed a stair lift and crucially the Blake Museum Mill which is a major heritage restoration project fronted by the dynamic Stewart Richards and which will add exhibition space to our famous , yet rather cramped, Museum.  “

Grants

Cllr Brian Smedley
Cllr Brian Smedley – budget approved by council

“BTC allocates some £156,200 worth of grants amongst the Bridgwater community. The Finance Committee agreed that the Chair should review and rationalise current Grants and seek to identify long term recurring items removing them from the annual system of bidding and approving them as core items.  The grants budget maintains delegated funding structures for Community Centres and Community Associations, Youth, Ward, Cultural and Twinning while retaining a growth budget of £10,000 to support new bids each year. We retain our historic sponsorship of all 3 major Sports in the town, Fireworks, Quayside Festival, Town Team , the Flower Show, the Chamber of Commerce plus Christmas lights.”

Budget proposals

The following proposals were agreed

ACTION 1 To maintain a continuation budget for 2019-2020

ACTION 2 To maintain a gradual managed year by year modest increase in precept and that this year we raise our precept to   59.51 thereby acquiring an overall precept of £596,000

ACTION 3 To approve the costs identified at Finance Committee for modernisations, staff training and LA memberships

ACTION 4 To approve a renegotiation by the Environment Portfolio with SDC/Clean surroundings regarding Penel Orlieu toilets and the terms of the bins, benches and street cleaning arrangements

ACTION 5 To approve potential use of reserves, but identified as 0

ACTION 6 To seek to identify and cost possible targets within our own heritage infrastructure priorities for CIL spend with initial focus on the Arts Centre, The Town Hall and the Blake Museum Mill project.

ACTION 7 To support the rationalisation of the grants budget including the key named core fundings and new project money as identified.

Cllr Brian Smedley Leader of Bridgwater Town Council 17.1.2019

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