The City of Cardiff Council approved its budget for 2016/17 at a full meeting in City Hall last Thursday. Whilst the city received a better than expected settlement from the Welsh Government, it was still a reduction in cash terms which has meant that difficult budgetary decisions have had to be made. That is why having 4 key priorities is so important because they provide focus when it comes to making decisions on funding local services. We have therefore chosen to spend the settlement on our key priorities which are:
- Better education and skills for all
- Supporting vulnerable people
- Creating more jobs and better-paid jobs
- Working together to transform services
The harsh reality is that this year’s settlement will prove to be the exception rather than the norm and therefore we have to make sensible and well-costed plans for the future. The highlights of our budget are:
- Reducing the proposed Council Tax increase from 4.5% to 3.7% (a rise of 73p a week to a Band D property)
- Protection for the arts – cuts to grants for Artes Mundi, Cardiff Singer of the World, and community arts grants have been removed from the budget
- Adding £1.9m to Disabled Adaptations Grants
- Giving schools growth an extra £1.6m, fully funding the impact of the removal of contracting out rules on Employer’s NI for schools
- Establishing a £500,000 fund for NEETS/looked after Children/Apprenticeships
- Targeted interventions for fixing potholes – an extra £320,000
- Additional funding for street cleaning services – an extra £320,000
Welcome news from the Auditor General for Wales
I welcomed last week’s report into how the Council is run by the Auditor General for Wales Huw Vaughan Thomas. It concluded that the Council had become “more cohesive, have improved engagement with members and staff, and have put in place a clear strategic direction for the council”. It also states that the Council’s leadership and management have improved the culture of the organisation encouraging greater openness and self-awareness of the Council’s weaknesses and strengths.
I believe that we are on the right path, that we have laid the foundations and shown the leadership required to drive our Council forward through these uncertain and difficult times.
There is still much to do and there can be no room for complacency but I want to assure everyone that we are and will continue to deliver for the city of Cardiff.
Two years ago, just before I took over as leader, the WAO found the Council suffered from weak performance in key service areas because of fragmented leadership and management. This is clearly no longer the case.
Over the next few months Estyn and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) will be sending us their evaluation of the Council following recent inspections and I hope that they too will also recognise the progress that has been made.
We are also working hard to deliver a City Deal which could assist with transforming the economic prospects of the Capital City Region. There is much to do and a long way still to travel, but there are clear signs we are getting things done, and getting things done the right way.
Welsh Language Centre is opened
I’d encourage everybody to visit Yr Hen Lyfrgell – the new Welsh Language Centre in the city centre that opened last Thursday. Alongside our partners we funded this exciting new development in Cardiff via a Welsh Government capital investment fund and I was very impressed with the end-result when I spoke at the official opening.
Yr Hen Lyfrgell – which means The Old Library in Welsh – is now home to a number of Welsh-language organisations and will host a variety of events and opportunities for visitors, young people and Welsh learners in particular. The City Council has worked with external partners to realise the ambition of creating a unique language and cultural centre which will deliver a wide range of economic and other social benefits to the city. It is also worth highlighting that the new Welsh Language Centre has created over 40 bilingual jobs.
The centre will create a ‘one-stop’ attraction which provides visitors with an insight into the Welsh language and culture as well as allowing them to learn about the history of the city as it sits alongside the Cardiff Story Museum. There will also be a drop-in crèche facility in the building run by Mudiad Meithrin which is ideal for those with childcare commitments who want to attend a Welsh lesson at the centre or just go around the city centre shops. My thanks go to our core partners who worked with us on this key project – Cardiff University, Clwb Ifor Bach, Mela Media, Menter Caerdydd, Mudiad Meithrin and Menter Caerdydd.