Swansea Council, under the control of Swansea Labour, is pledging to invest in education and social care despite continued cuts to local government funding.
The positive move by the Council to provide extra support for vital services comes despite continuing Tory austerity cuts in funding for local government in Wales that have required £24m of savings being needed to be found in the coming 12 months.
The measures would mean that in addition to a local council tax increase of 2.99% intended as part of the budget proposals, there will also be a rise of 1% for teachers pay and 2% for social care services.
The Labour-inspired pledges in the budget will help improve the lives of families across every community in Swansea as they benefit from revenue spending of more than £440m in the coming financial year.
Labour Cllr Rob Stewart, Leader of the Council said: “The Westminster Government has argued that the age of austerity has come to an end. It hasn’t. Councils across the UK are worse off than they were in 2009 and over £1bn has been cut from local government funding in Wales. If government funded local services fairly then we would need to raise less from Council tax. For instance, the Westminster Government has refused to fully fund the teachers’ pay award leaving the burden on local government.
“This year our funding gap will be £24m, rising to around £70m in the next few years if there’s no end to austerity. The core council tax rise could have been as low as 2.99% this year, but in the face of further funding cuts from government, our consultation showed the public was prepared to pay a little more for services rather than lose them.
“That’s why, despite the Welsh Government providing some additional money for schools and social services this year, we have decided to step in to ease the pressure on hard-pressed budgets by adding a further 1% to council tax to cover teachers’ pay rises.
“Similarly, we are also adding another 2% to cover the continuing rising demand for and cost of social care – services that support some of the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Added Cllr Stewart: “In an age of continuing national government cuts, the work we do in Swansea supporting the young, the old and the vulnerable provides a vital backstop for our communities and, for our children, an investment in their futures.
“We’ve listened to the views of the people of Swansea and the proposals going to Cabinet will mean the council will be spending an average £1.6m a day on services that will touch all our citizens and communities in the year ahead.”
Among key proposals in the budget report:
- Additional cash investment in education of £3.7m to fully fund the teachers’ pay award.
- A boost of £4.2m for investment in social care services for the vulnerable and elderly
- £141m for investing in a new generation of school building and improvements
- £2.4m extra for roads and pavements
- £4m for new council homes across Swansea
- £47m extra to upgrade council homes
- Further roll-out of more local area co-ordination services alongside a review of long-term adult care packages resulting in net savings of £400,000
During a consultation period the council received more than 800 responses and petitions about its proposals. The council also staged a consultation session with pupils from city schools to get their views on a range of issues.
Cllr Stewart said: “We’ve listened carefully to what people have said which is also why we won’t be introducing charges in our free car parks in local communities.
“We know the pressure high streets in our outlying communities are feeling due to the uncertainty of Brexit and other issues so we are minded not to press ahead. We will also be considering withdrawing plans to change library services for housebound residents which would mean the service will continue to be provided for free as it is at the moment.”
Among savings proposals and income opportunities identified are:
- Further management and back-office savings across the council of £750,000
- Staff savings of £100,000 due to mobile working
- New income from rental of office space in Civic Centre of £275,000
- Integrated Transport savings of £250,000
Cllr Stewart said: “In the last few years we’ve had to deal with the most prolonged series of budget reductions for local government funding in modern times. We’ve saved £60m so far.
“We’ve been able to protect frontline services as much as possible thanks to our determination to be leaner, more efficient and to ensure we make the most of technology and automation.
“Despite austerity we are injecting £1.6m a day into the local economy and continuing to deliver on the priorities of the people of Swansea.”
If Cabinet approves the report on February 14, it will go to Full Council on February 28 for a final decision.