We have listened

24 JAN 2014

‘We have listened’: Swansea’s ruling Labour group alters proposals on care homes, parking charges and school crossing patrols

From: South Wales Evening Post; Saturday January 24, 2014

CITY leaders in Swansea insist they have listened to the public after rowing back on a number of controversial budget proposals.

From care homes to car parking, libraries to lollipop men and women, Swansea’s Labour administration has gone back to the drawing board.

And it said this was ample proof that its public consultation on the budget proposals, which ended on Wednesday, was no sham.

“People accused us about not being serious about the consultation,” said councillor Rob Stewart, cabinet member for finance.

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“But this demonstrates that we are serious, and that we do listen and change our position.

”The Labour administration will publish its revised budget proposals shortly.

They will be debated by full council at an earlier than planned meeting on February 11.

Mr Stewart said the revised proposals were:

– A commitment not to close any residential care homes before April 2015.

– Giving Pennard library campaigners a further eight months to look at different ways of funding the service, plus a commitment to review library services throughout Swansea to match provision better with demand.

– No introduction of residents’ parking charges during 2014/15, but consideration of new parking charges in Gorseinon and Morriston after a period – probably two hours – of free parking.

– No withdrawal of crossing patrols at six specific schools in 2014/15.

– No withdrawal of the council’s £290,000 grant to Emlas (Ethnic Minority Language Achievement Service), which pays for teachers to help pupils and some older people whose first language is not English.

Asked how these proposal revisions would be funded, Mr Stewart said the council’s end-of-year deficit was set to be some £4 million less than last year, at around £2 million.

This in turn, he said, gave the administration more wriggle-room financially.

Mr Stewart said constant monitoring of departmental spending had had a positive impact in this regard.

But he added: “We still have a deficit.”

However, this was somewhat countered by news that the authority needed to save £26.3 million in 2014/15, not the £25 million bandied about till now. This, said Mr Stewart, was due to a slightly bigger gap than forecast in spending pressures versus funding.

On top of the budget revisions, Mr Stewart said that Labour will spend an extra £1 million in 2014/15 repairing roads and pavements, funded by the equivalent sum from council insurance reserves.

And a contentious £600,000 scheme to refurbish the Civic Centre Council Chamber and make it more webcast-friendly is being cut right back. Mr Stewart said the plan now was to do some infrastructure work at the chamber and make it more accessible. In the meantime the council will look at ways of expanding the web technology already in place at the Guildhall.

But a proposal to save money by handing over the running of day centres remains on the table. This has caused much consternation among people who use them.

But Mr Stewart said: “No day centre is going to close until we have something equivalent or better in place. We are inviting people to apply to run them.”

COUNCIL tax in Swansea is likely to increase by more than 4 per cent from April 1 this year.

Authorities get most of their funding via central Government, but around 20 per cent of their revenue comes directly from their council-tax paying constituents.

Asked by the Post what the increase was likely to be this coming financial year, cabinet member for finance, councillor Rob Stewart, replied: “In the four per cents”.

This, he said, was on a par with the Welsh average.

The planned rise in Neath Port Talbot is 4.5 per cent. No figure has been proposed at this stage in Carmarthenshire.

As well as helping to pay for key services like street cleaning and care homes, council tax retains and reinforces the link between constituents and the politicians they elect every four years.

Currently, the Band A rate for council tax payers in Swansea (without the South Wales Police precept) is £685.71, while the Band I rate is £2399.97. People living in areas with community councils also pay precepts towards their running costs.

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