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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“We are determined to keep on delivering the vital frontline services that people in Swansea want.”
Lead image: Swansea Guildhall (Swansea Council)