‘Aus­ter­ity is not over’

Cynon Valley - - FRONT PAGE - AN­THONY LEWIS an­[email protected]­plc.com

RHONDDA Cynon Taf coun­cil leader An­drew Mor­gan to­day gives his ver­dict on 2018 and lays bare the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges fac­ing the au­thor­ity in 2019.

TWELVE months can be a long time in lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

With more than 600 ser­vices to run, a year in the life of Rhondda Cynon Taf coun­cil can be a pretty hec­tic one.

With coun­cils across the UK un­der in­creas­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sure it is as im­por­tant as ever to re­flect prop­erly on the ups and downs of the last year.

The re­cent state of the county bor­ough de­bate gave the coun­cil leader Coun­cil­lor An­drew Mor­gan the chance to take coun­cil­lors through the big suc­cesses the au­thor­ity has had in 2018.

But im­por­tantly it also gave coun­cil­lors the op­por­tu­nity to high­light where the coun­cil can im­prove and the chal­lenges it faces go­ing for­ward.

The coun­cil is fac­ing a bud­get gap of £5.9m for 2019-20 with an as­sumed coun­cil tax rise of 3%.

Cllr Mor­gan told coun­cil­lors: “Aus­ter­ity is cer­tainly not over. We are go­ing into the ninth con­sec­u­tive year.

“There is no pri­or­ity larger and greater than the bud­get. If we don’t keep con­trol of our fi­nances we can’t de­liver the ser­vices we need.”

He said the coun­cil had man­aged to make around £6m sav­ings last year and he praised of­fi­cers and staff for their “quite ex­cep­tional” ef­forts in de­liv­er­ing this.

He men­tioned the small im­prove­ment in the pro­vi­sional Welsh Gov­ern­ment set­tle­ment of 0.3%.

Cllr Mor­gan said that when he was first elected they were get­ting rises of 5% and 6%.

“The de­mands and pres­sures have never been greater. The 3.3% [rise in coun­cil tax] last year was the low­est in­crease in Wales.

“It is the sixth low­est on av­er­age on what peo­ple pay for their ser­vices.

“No­body likes pay­ing it but we are do­ing our best to min­imise the in­crease.”

He said that you can’t com­pare coun­cil tax bands be­cause they are based on house prices which vary be­tween ar­eas.

Cllr Mor­gan said that this year they have spent £8m on school main­te­nance, £5m in cap­i­tal spend­ing, and an in­crease in the over­all rev­enue bud­get of £2m.

He added that the in­di­vid­ual schools bud­get had gone up by 9.9% since 2012-13 whilst other coun­cil bud­gets had re­duced by 6.48%.

He also said that over 10 years the coun­cil has spent £12m on Welshmedium schools.

Cllr Mor­gan said the 21st Cen­tury Schools Pro­gramme pro­jects which had been de­liv­ered, the £1.6m spent on re­duc­ing class sizes, and the ad­di­tional fund­ing for ex­tra teach­ers in six schools as well as the plans for a new three-16 school in Pon­typridd. He said: “Not one sin­gle year have we cut school bud­gets. The amount of ad­di­tional fund­ing we can put in does not meet the de­mand.”

He also men­tioned the £1m teacher de­vel­op­ment grant say­ing “pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment is hugely im­por­tant but my con­cern is that we have got to keep teach­ers in schools to keep teach­ing”.

Cllr Mor­gan said there had been a small dip in re­sults this year but that was mainly down to changes in the cur­ricu­lum.

Cllr Mor­gan said there had been £23.5m se­cured for high­ways spend­ing which will re­sult in fewer in­sur­ance claims from pot­holes and less spend­ing on day-to-day main­te­nance.

He men­tioned more than 150 car­riage­way schemes and in ex­cess of 100 foot­way schemes that the coun­cil has de­liv­ered.

Cllr Mor­gan also high­lighted the work they had done to re­pair road struc­tures such as bridges, say­ing: “The time we would no­tice not hav­ing that in­vest­ment is ei­ther when it falls down or it closes.

“Un­less we deal with the is­sues some of our com­mu­ni­ties would get

cut off.”

He high­lighted that 33 struc­tures had been im­proved since 2011 with over £6m spent in the Rhon­nda on schemes in­clud­ing Pont Rhondda and the Porth River Wall.

He went on to men­tion pro­jects such as the A4119 du­alling, the Llan­haran By­pass and £1m ex­ten­sion to the Aber­dare By­pass as well as the £200,000 look­ing in to the pos­si­bil­ity of a Tre­orchy link road.

He praised the “mas­sive ef­fort” ear­lier this year of coun­cil staff in deal­ing with the snow on roads in RCT.

When it comes to town cen­tre sup­port, Cllr Mor­gan men­tioned the var­i­ous Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Dis­tricts and cham­bers of trade which con­tinue top op­er­ate in var­i­ous RCT towns.

He also high­lighted the town cen­tre main­te­nance grant with pro­pos­als to ex­tend the scheme to Porth, Fern­dale and Aber­dare in the next year.

He said that £400,000 had been spent to help town cen­tres put on Christ­mas events and that they had brought 247 prop­er­ties back into use dur­ing the year.

Cllr Mor­gan high­lighted the suc­cess of the [email protected] ser­vice which aims to get peo­ple out of hospi­tal and back home and said it has been “quite ex­cep­tional”.

He said with­out the work that so­cial care staff do that the Royal Glam­or­gan and Prince Charles hos­pi­tals would have faced “sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­cul- ties” last win­ter and staff should be com­mended.

Cllr Mau­reen Web­ber, the deputy leader of the coun­cil, said: “It is re­ally pleas­ing to see so much pos­i­tive in­vest­ment. Aus­ter­ity is con­tin­u­ing to im­pact on our bud­get.”

She men­tioned the level of in­flu­ence the coun­cil has with Welsh Gov­ern­ment and said: “That’s only pos­si­ble through good lead­er­ship. We are get­ting a lot of what we do right.”

Cllr Pauline Jar­man, the leader of Plaid Cymru on the coun­cil, said that every­thing comes at a cost which is hu­man as well as fi­nan­cial.

She said: “Over 350 peo­ple have lost their jobs. There are grounds for re­duc­ing se­nior man­age­ment.

“Most jobs have been lost in ed­u­ca­tion be­cause of cuts in school fund­ing leav­ing schools to bat­tle against dif­fi­cult bud­gets.

“Most who lost their jobs are women. The aus­ter­ity tag is rub­bing off on Welsh Gov­ern­ment in its treat­ment of coun­cils.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is a statu­tory func­tion. It is not mea­sured by new schools. If we don’t have suf­fi­cient money it doesn’t mat­ter if the walls are paved in gold and the ceil­ings encrusted in di­a­mond.

“It is like hav­ing a Jaguar car and not hav­ing the fuel to run it.”

She also said the leader could have men­tioned the gen­der pay gap and that it is time for the coun­cil to en­ter the 21st cen­tury when it comes to we­b­cast­ing meet­ings.

But Cllr Mor­gan re­sponded by say­ing: “School bud­gets were not cut. Cost pres­sures are ris­ing more than money is avail­able. We have to look at staff num­bers.

“We have done very well to avoid com­pul­sory re­dun­dan­cies.

“You (the op­po­si­tion) don’t come up with any sug­ges­tions. I am not go­ing to take lec­tures.

“We have been ab­so­lutely dili­gent to avoid sign­f­i­cant cuts and big coun­cil tax rises but still pro­tect schools as best as we can.”

Cllr Geraint Davies of Plaid Cymru said the sit­u­a­tion in the county bor­ough was “out of our hands” and de­pends on Brexit.

He said: “If Brexit hap­pens we are go­ing to be poorer and there will be less re­sources for lo­cal gov­ern­ment. I don’t want Brexit to hap­pen.”

He raised trans­port is­sues at the top of the Rhondda Val­ley high­lighted by a re­cent fa­tal crash in Stag Square in Tre­orchy.

He also raised the is­sue of the lack of cy­cle lanes in the north of the county bor­ough but Cllr Mor­gan said ac­tive travel was not a fast process but there were plans be­ing put to­gether.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Coun­cil leader An­drew Mor­gan

Coun­cil­lor An­drew Mor­gan

high­lighted the town main­te­nance grant with pro­pos­als to ex­tend the scheme to Aber­dare in the next year

Coun­cil­lor Mor­gan com­mended staff at the Royal Glam­or­gan hospi­tal

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