Bridgwater Town Council sets its ‘Devolution Budget’

Town Council Leader Brian Smedley outlines budget for 2023-24

On the 19 January 2023, Bridgwater Town Council set  its budget for 2023-24 consisting net spending plans to a total of £1,478,332, with a precept (element of the council tax) request of £1,153,746 has been made to the new Somerset Council, the Collecting Authority. Town Clerk David Mears said “Your annual Council Tax charge is built up by the annual charges of Somerset Council generic, Somerset Council Adult Social Care, Bridgwater Town Council (or your local town/parish council), Devon and Somerset Fire Authority, Somerset Rivers Authority, and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset. The Council Tax charge relating to Bridgwater Town Council for 2023-2 will be £112.05 a year based on a Band D property and is the one of lowest of the council tax charges of all the major towns in Somerset. In fact, the only other towns with a lower Band D equivalent figure are Taunton and Wellington The annual charge equates to £1.57 per week per Band D equivalent household. The overriding reason for the increase in the council tax is the increase in energy costs on Town Council owned buildings which has increased by £177,000.”

Smedley working out budget complexities

Leader of the  Labour controlled Town Council, Brian Smedley (Westover)  moved the Budget proposals at the January  meeting to unanimous support and said “This is a year of change. The new unitary council has been brought in ‘ostensibly’ to save money and that was the Tories aim when they came up with the plan.  But then they lost the County election and the Lib Dems, who campaigned against it and against the over-large Unitary authority are now ‘running’ that very same overlarge unitary authority.  For us at this level, however, it means we are at the start of a future where we can take on more services…and we await the final devolution of services and assets decisions. But we will be taking on more and so it was important that we set aside money for this in a previous budget. That said we have nevertheless been hit by a BIG energy hike…we didn’t expect this and of course this has distorted every council’s budget. Nevertheless we have set a sensible budget that uses balances and reserves and keeps our precept lower than others.”

 The Picture ‘Nationally and Locally’

Putting the final touches to the global picture

Cllr Smedley continued “However, we have been careful and we remain the second lowest rise of comparative towns in Somerset whilst still including key growth items in there, still retaining and increasing staff levels and paying them the wages they deserve. Inflation is in double digits. It’s the highest in 40 years + pay, fuel and energy costs are going up-but this is everywhere.  Interest rates and still recovering from covid so no relief there. Plus, and this is crucial, the national funding picture remains that Government are not yet restoring proper  funding to Local government – all this has been pushed back to 25/26. When you look at the County position you’ll see a very delicate picture and it’s a fact that the Unitary is starting with very low reserves whilst Bridgwater Town Council is in a good position through constructive use of balances with a healthy reserve. Most importantly for us we are bringing services and assets BACK to Bridgwater and that means BACK to local control, so we are once again in charge of our town. We’re re-opening community facilities in Hamp and in Sydenham, we’re bringing in a workforce of Town Rangers who can get out there in the community and troubleshoot where its needed most and we’re bringing back our parks and gardens in house. We’re doing all this while ‘greening up’ our offer, maintaining core funding to crucial services, promoting new initiatives and retaining and preserving the towns assets. All this for £9.33 a month on a Band D whilst the equivalent in Yeovil is £10.33, Glastonbury £10.75 Burnham £9.66 and Frome £15.33. I’d say Bridgwater’s done well and I think we’ll do well out of Unitary if we get all the assets and services that we want to through the Devolution process.”

The following services are provided by the Town Council and are included within the Town Council’s 2023-24 budget:

  • A dedicated Town Ranger service from April 2023
  • Quantock Road Cemetery and St. John’s Cemetery, Bristol Road
  • Town Hall
  • 10 Allotment Sites across Bridgwater
  • Town Centre Christmas Lights
  • Community Grant funding
  • Blake Museum
  • Town Team
  • 14 Bus Shelters
  • Promotion of Tourism
  • ReCreation Building at Hamp (from April 2023)
  • Rollercoaster
  • St Matthew’s Field, plus West Street Market.
  • Rollercoaster building and grounds.
  • King Square.
  • Victoria Park (not the community centre)
  • Eastover Park
  • Mansfield Park
  • Coronation Park
  • Blake Gardens
  • Market Charter

The Town Budget ‘Banding’

Banding 2022/23 2023/24 Annual Increase Amount Per week
Band A £60.87 £74.70 £13.83 £0.26p
Band B £71.02 £87.15 £16.13 £0.31p
Band C £81.16 £99.60 £18.43 £0.35p
Band D £91.31 £112.05 £20.74 £0.39p
Band E £111.60 £136.95 £25.35 £0.49p
Band F £131.89 £161.85 £29.96 £0.58p
Band G £152.18 £186.75 £34.57 £0.66p
Band H £182.62 £224.10 £41.48 £0.80p