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Millions more to be invested in Swansea although council tax may rise

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Swansea Council is set to invest millions of pounds more in services that affect our communities every day as they emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.

The Welsh Government’s indicative budget for the next financial year has earmarked an uplift of around £22m for Swansea. In the next four years it’s anticipated a total of around £60m will be invested in council services that make a difference in people’s lives every day.

The move means that visible services provided by the council such as roads, the environment, street cleaning, littering as well as social care and education will see increases in budgets and investment next year.

Redundancies are not expected this year thanks to efforts made by the council to protect jobs and services.

The council’s continuing investment in new school facilities – already worth £150m – is also expected to continue with Welsh Government support.

The council is also planning to create a new recovery fund worth millions of pounds designed to support the local economy and services through the uncertain period post-Brexit and in the wake of the pandemic.

But while the Welsh Government’s uplift has been welcomed by Swansea Council Leader Rob Stewart, but he warned that it would take many more years of similar increases to end the damage done by a decade of UK government austerity.

Cllr Rob Stewart

He said: “The last year has been dominated by the impact of Covid-19 on our communities. Swansea Council has transformed what we do in response and we’re still playing a leading role in supporting our communities to cope.

“We will be with our local communities and businesses every step of the way as we emerge from the pandemic and the challenges of Brexit.

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“Thanks to the most positive Budget settlement from the Welsh Government in a decade, we intend to invest millions of pounds more on the priorities of the people of Swansea next year.

“We are planning major investment in the visible services that people see every day ranging from fixing potholes and roads investment, to tackling littering, graffiti, weeds and those community problems that residents want to see sorted.

“There will also be further additional support and funding for education and social care which have borne many of the stresses of Covid-19 this past year.”

He added: “The council has worked tirelessly to protect services and jobs during turbulent times and no job losses are expected despite the huge challenges facing councils.  

“I want to pay tribute to all those hard-working council frontline staff, schools, teachers, our recycling and waste collection teams, the contact tracing teams and the thousands of other council staff who’ve stepped up over the last year.

“Our communities have never needed our support as much as they have done since the start of the pandemic. I would argue that the Welsh Government’s decision to pump extra money into local government services now is recognition of the critical role the council and its staff have played in supporting local people through the most challenging public health crisis in a century.”

But he added: “While the funding increase from the Welsh Government is very welcome it won’t undo years of UK Government austerity and some unavoidable decisions still need to be made about savings which will help us further invest in the people’s priorities.”

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The Council’s Cabinet is due to see the draft Budget report at its meeting on January 21. Public consultation will follow and feedback will be taken into account by Cabinet on February 18 ahead of a finalised budget being offered to Full Council on March 4.

Although the Council is getting extra funding in the next financial year, £8.3m of efficiency and service modernisation savings have also been identified to help further offset rising demand for social care services, the teachers’ pay award, inflation and other costs.

The increased funding means that the savings target for the Council over the next few years could be significantly less than the previously-anticipated £55m. But this will depend on the level of future settlements.

No decision has yet been taken on the level of council tax for next year and this will form part of the consultation. However, the amount Swansea collects in council tax is only broadly the equivalent of its spending on social services.

Cllr Stewart said: “Next year we will be investing an average £1.8m every day in services that make a real difference to people’s lives. Services like safeguarding the vulnerable, tackling poverty, supporting those struggling the in wake of the pandemic and caring for our ageing population.

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“People care about the homeless and they care about anti-social behaviour. Things like clean streets, graffiti and communities free of fly-tipping and litter are their priorities and the council’s priorities too.

“We will be investing in services that tackle these problems, working alongside local people who will I’m sure continue to play their part.”

Cllr Stewart said: “Every Council in Wales has experienced a decade of budget real-terms reductions because the money being received from central government has been systematically cut back every single year.

“We are already doing more with less because the council has become smarter, leaner and more efficient. We have reduced back-office spending, automated services and cut red tape and that has helped slash the cost of what we do by millions of pounds. By radically changing the way we work we have achieved savings of more than £70m in the last five years.

“This prudent approach to financial management meant that when Covid-19 struck last year we were able to draw on millions of pounds of our own reserves to support community services.

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“We are determined to keep on delivering the vital frontline services that people in Swansea want.”

Lead image: Swansea Guildhall (Swansea Council)


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Dance

Doctors prescribe dance classes to keep patients on their feet

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet.

Five of the health board’s clusters – groups of GP surgeries working together within a geographical area – are backing the scheme as the exercise to music is proven to aid falls prevention.

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Each class is led by a trained dance teacher with participants encouraged to follow a range of routines, designed to develop their strength and balance, with the option of using a chair for support if their mobility is limited.

The Dance for Health programme is a collaboration between the health board, clusters, local authorities, and Aesop, an arts focused charity.

Alyson Pugh, Programme Manager at Aesop, said: “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the health sector to improve the health and wellbeing of people aged over 65 through the medium of dance.

“During each class participants will move to a variety of music from all around the world. The classes are fun and vibrant, increasing fitness, mobility and strength.

“Afterwards, participants will have a good chance to get to know one another over a cup of tea or coffee. No previous experience is needed, everybody is welcome.”

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So far classes are held in Pontardawe, Morriston, Seven Sisters, Cwmavon and Briton Ferry, Upper Killay, Reynoldston, Mumbles and the Waterfront Museum.

Alyson said: “The health board asked for 12 classes across Swansea Bay and funded the management side while the GP clusters are funding the delivery of the classes. They wanted it to be grass roots up.

“Anyone can walk in but they wanted the main referrals to come from the virtual wards and local area coordinators and social prescribers, a whole community approach.”

Lizzie MacMillan (Image: Swansea Bay HNS)

Dance artist Lizzie MacMillan (left), a development officer for Dance for Health, said: “It’s for older people and people who are struggling a little bit with perhaps balance issues, mobility issues as well, so we are not expecting them to foxtrot along the floor on the first class or anything like that. It builds up over the weeks.

“We start off quite gently, just seeing where everyone is in the class – I like to gauge the class first of all to see if people are having problems with balance or perhaps giddiness or joint problems. I like to get to know each person in the class so that I can look after them and know their capacity for movement.

“We use the chairs quite a lot if someone is unsteady on their feet. They can still do a variation using the chair for support. We also do a standing variation if people are a little fitter or a little bit more able to push themselves further in the class.”

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mike Garner, Cwmtawe Cluster lead, said: “We are delighted to be participating in this programme as it fits in perfectly with our goal of improving well-being and helping people remain fit and healthy.”

One participant, Pauline Anderson, said: “I’ve been to four or five classes. I thought I would try it to see what it’s like and it’s been very good.

“As you get older you become more immobile. I’ve been struggling with my knees and joints, so I have found it helpful.

“I would advise anyone thinking about it to just come along.”

Another participant, Betty Didcock, said: “I try to keep active as much as I can. I used to enjoy dancing when I was younger. I’ve made friends here. If you’re a bit shy, it’s a wonderful place to come to get used to talking to people. I’m a quiet one. I don’t always do it right but I have a go.”

While Amber Davies said: “I thought I’d come along to see what it was like. It’s important to keep busy and remain active. It’s also a good way of meeting new people.”

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Swansea

Swansea’s popular land train is back – and you can even take your dog for a ride!

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Taking your family for a day out along Swansea prom? Now your four-legged friend can join in the fun too by hitching a ride on the land train!

Officially known as the Swansea Bay Rider, the 72-seater land train runs along Swansea’s prom from Blackpill Lido to Southend Gardens in Mumbles giving passengers an incredible view of Swansea Bay as they travel along.

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Run by Swansea Council, the land train has been a feature of summer holiday trips for many years – whether it’s to soak up the sights in style, or hop on for a relaxing journey after a day of fun in the sun.

But did you know that dogs are allowed on board too?

The council has highlighted the little known fact that four-legged friends are welcome to ride the land train with their owners, as long as they are wearing a lead and are under control.

With more people than ever taking their dog on holiday or on days out, the land train is another fun activity that all the family can enjoy.

The Swansea Bay Rider is also fully accessible to wheelchair users.

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The land train runs every weekend from 23 April to 4 September, and daily during the school holidays between 30 May and 3 June, and again between Friday 15 July and Sunday 4 September.

The 30 minute ride from Blackpill to Southend runs 7 times a day at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm from Blackpill.

Return journeys from Southend are at 11am, 12pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm, 4.30pm and 5.30pm.

Can’t get enough of riding the land-train? How about becoming its driver!

Swansea Council are recruiting a land train driver on a zero hours contract for £19,264 per annum (pro-rata). Applications are open until 24 May on the council’s website.

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(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Books & Literature

Author uncovers the lost tale of Swansea fairground legend

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From Swansea Bliz survivor to fairground strongman – an author discovers his grandfather’s fascinating story as The Welsh Hercules.

In the early half of the 20th Century, Jack Lemm was a household name in Wales. As the Strongman star of fairgrounds and Music Hall, he was famed for his feats of strength, wrestling and his dangerous headlining act, The Whirl of Death.

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Times and entertainment trends change, however, and now the once-famous showman is almost forgotten.

For one man, however, the story of the strongman had special meaning. Glaswegian Steven Blockley had always thought that his Great Grandfather deserved to be better known.

“I never actually met Jack,” he says. “I grew up listening to my uncles and aunts telling fascinating stories about all his incredible achievements around the Swansea area and I always knew I wanted to write a book to bring them to a wider audience. As I dug further into his past, however, even I was surprised by what I found.”

Looking into the background of Jack, Steven and co-author David J Thacker uncovered a rich life story and the perfect antidote to our troubled times.

Steven continues, “Jack lived through some harsh years – he was on HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland in World War 1 and was a survivor of the Swansea Blitz in the Second World War – but his focus was always to put family first and to provide for everyone at home, even if doing so took him away from them.”

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David takes up the story. “Jack came from a Greek family and his given surname was actually Lamnea, but his exploits on stage and at fairs all over the UK, including at Neath, were not always popular, especially with his authoritarian father.

“A lot of the tension in our book comes from that relationship, of a son trying to live up to the ideals of his father.”

The resulting book, The Welsh Hercules, took over a year to research and write but in doing it Steven found a kind of resolution.

“While we were writing the book, I turned 60. At that age, Jack was still doing 40 shows a day at the fairgrounds and even after he retired, he was helping roadworkers outside his house to fix the roads!

“Age really was just a number for him and I think that’s a great attitude to have.”

The Welsh Hercules tells the story of Jack, from his humble beginnings on Swansea Docks through to becoming a renowned boxing coach and fairground star. It takes him through two World Wars, as a survivor of the Battle of Jutland and the Swansea Blitz, and introduces a whole new world of showmen, acrobats and colourful characters.

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But at its heart, Jack’s story is one of family – of the challenges met, the hearts won and the enduring romance of a Showman and his wife.

The Welsh Hercules is available in paperback on Amazon priced at £11.99

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