Bridgwater Town Council sets 2020 Budget

2020 budget
Town Council Leader Brian Smedley presents town budget for 2020

At last Thursday’s Bridgwater Town Council meeting, Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour,Westover) introduced the towns budget for 2020-21 calling it a ‘progressive budget, making savings not cuts, increasing the workforce, boosting the property portfolio, keeping the precept down, bringing key local services in house and once again elevating the role of the Town Council beyond a mere Parish level and heading in the right direction to our ultimate goal of regaining the powers of the Borough which symbolised the heyday of the town’ . In commending the budget to councillors, who voted it through unanimously, the Leader also paid special tribute to new Town Clerk David Mears whose personal work in reshaping the council’s finances, administration and general organisation was key to the  success of the budget.

Councillor Smedley looks forward to the year ahead

Cllr Smedley said “Work started on the budget in September 2019. The draft budget has been through the Committee Cycle and was discussed by Full Council in December. The Policy and Finance Executive now recommends this draft budget for the next financial year (1/04/2020 to 31/03/2021. The budget presented has been difficult to achieve and has involved a lot of work over the last 12 months in particular with seeking ways of increasing income in the face of the termination of Government Support Funding and at the same time making significant savings without any cuts to services. This has been achieved by the Council bringing areas that were previously outsourced, such as the cemeteries, back in-house. This has created new employment and producing significant savings.”

Savings Not Cuts

David Mears
Newly appointed Bridgwater Town Clerk David Mears

“Much of the credit to the restructuring of administration and financial management goes to new town clerk David Mears, but Bridgwater Town Council also has a unique and progressive way of working which brings into play the energy and talents of our elected members and in particular our Forum System which has opened the doors to those members of the public who have skills and enthusiasms to contribute and share.  During this year we have provided grant support and redistributed financial assistance back to the community to the tune of some  £137,600 and we have created a sinking fund to pay for the refurbishment of the exterior of the Town Hall and roof repairs and as a result have brought this crucial public building almost 100% back into public use. In the next few months we will be refurbing the reception arrangements continuing and enhancing that key link between public and council. We remain determined that the Town Council is the closest elected authority to the wishes of the people and that interface is vital.”

Taking Ownership of Our Town

Town Councillors Kath Pearce & Glen Burrows taking the town council out into the community

“We have continued to value the heritage of our town through our funding of the Blake Museum and continue to build towards the Mill project, which we will take forward in 2020 by commissioning an options appraisal to gain the true costs involved which should give a boost to project manager Stewart Richards. At the same time we entered into negotiations with Sedgemoor District Council to take over the ownership of the Bridgwater Arts Centre and used CIL money (Community Infrastructure Levy funding raised separately to benefit infrastructure projects) to not just fix the damaged roof that had caused the closure of the building and threatened it’s future, but remain committed to funding the project and ownership of the countries first art centre for the people of the town. Deputy Leader Cllr Kathy Pearce, who also fronts the Community portfolio has also been particularly active in environmental matters and linking these with general community issues such as fronting the first multi-agency meeting to bring together all the groups variously trying to tackle the issue of rough sleeping. Not a role the Town Council has to be involved in but one which we want to be.”

Increasing the Workforce

Councillors Mick Lerry (Economy) Leigh Redman (Premises) and Mayor Tony Heywood (Civic)

“By taking over the Cemeteries we are saving approx. £53,000 per year by bringing the management and ground maintenance in-house. At the same time we have now increased our direct workforce to 12 which means it has quadrupled in a year but this brings us up to where we ought to be, on a par with other, even smaller towns, that have a similar workforce. We also now have an office suite on the first floor of the town hall, fully enhanced meeting rooms and due to the hard work of portfolio holders Cllr Mick Lerry (Staff and Economy) and Cllr Leigh Redman (Premises) we have brought the majority of the building back into public use and are hiring out rooms to many public bodies thereby generating an income to replace the lost grant from central government.”

“At the same time we are committed to the greatest possible community use of our magnificent town hall theatre and our commitment to working with all the cultural outlets in the town noticeably the world famous Bridgwater Carnival , the new and popular Quayside festival and in particular we are proud to be a partner in the recent £1 million plus arts council project ‘Creative People and Places’ through our Bridgwater Cultural Partnership, fronted by our current Mayor cllr Tony Heywood.”

Meeting the Climate Challenge

Li Gibson, Climate Change portfolio holder surveys Hamp Green Rise where trees have been removed and need replacing

“One of our most active community bodies is the Climate Emergency Forum, which under the direction of Cllr Li Gibson organised the towns first Environmental festival ‘Seed the Day’ last year, which we intend to continue. We have overseen a considerable change in many ecologically friendly projects and products within the remit of the town council and as one of the first local authorities in Somerset to declare a climate emergency and to publicly ban fracking we can rightly see ourselves as pioneers in this respect.We have also set up a tree replacement fund of £5,000 which we will be taking forward into 2020 and beyond as other authorities, notably County, fail to maintain adequate budgets to deal with these duties that fall within their remit. “

Cllr Julie Cordiner , newly elected Portfolio Holder for Youth at Bridgwater Town Council

“It is also the case that with the withdrawal of County funding of youth projects some years back, Bridgwater Town Council stepped in to ensure youth funding didn’t cease in our town. We are therefore not just continuing with a £10,000 per annum budget for youth, under the portfolio of Cllr Julie Cordiner, but we are allowing this fund to be allocated by our own Youth Council, run, debated and voted on by youth delegates from all the schools in the town.”

“Similarly crucial to our green agenda is taking a progressive look at transport issues, which is why the work of the Town Transport Forum, under Cllr Glen Burrows, is crucial  and the council will be supporting initiatives brought forward such as the ‘Catch the Bus’ campaign maintaining our commitment to an integrated public transport service that not just benefits the wider community but saves the environment.    “

Looking for guidance from above….well, first floor of the town hall…

Keeping the Precept affordable

“Many thanks are due to Town Clerk David Mears and his hard work, methodical mind and encyclopaedic knowledge of everything anyone might need to know but wouldn’t think of retaining, in balancing the books and setting up the necessary governance, and it should be noted that whilst other  Town Councils are predicting their precept increase to be in the region of 16% to 24%, Bridgwater’s is rising by just  5.89%. Even Sedgemoor District Council’s current forecast is a £5 raise – the maximum they can do before their budget is compelled to go to public referendum, BTC will rise by just £3.51 on a band D – still the lowest in the county, therefore not unduly increasing the burden on the many lower income families in our town.”

Talking up our town is up to us alone. Let’s all do our bit.

2020 Vision

“But Bridgwater should be proud of these achievements and we hope that the people will support our budget. We have cross party support here at Town and we want to work with not against Sedgemoor to move forward into 2020.  You can help us. The time now is to talk Bridgwater up not down. This will be the second year that we’ve brought out a specific town tourism guide, a town calendar and we now have a stock of town postcards. If you’re passing the town hall drop in to the office and take away some brochures to wherever you’re travelling to, put them in your shop, workplace, community centre. Take them abroad or up country. Buy a calendar and keep on top of all the many events we are sponsoring in the town for 2020, whether it’s Carnival, Quayside festival, Seed the Day, the Docks Gala, Bridgwater Together or History Day, these are all things that make our town special and depend on everyone’s support. That’s the vision we need for 2020.”