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Education and social services top budget priorities

Swansea Council has announced extra money for vital services such as education, social care, highways and housing on top of what had already been planned as part of its draft budget.

Guildhall

Council tax is also set to rise by less than initially predicted as the council's cabinet backed a 2.75% increase at a meeting today, equivalent to 45p per week.

Council leader Rob Stewart said the budget will help improve the lives of families across every community in Swansea at a time when the council is driving a multi billion pound regeneration of the city centre and developing plans to spend around £100m on new school buildings that will benefit pupils for generations to come.

Cllr Stewart today unveiled a number of new initiatives including:

  •          an extra £1m to tackle essential school repairs,
  • •         £500k for new 3G sports pitches which will be developed at schools,
  • •         targeted free parking on certain days in urban areas to help boost local businesses,
  • •         a £100k fund to ensure a rapid response to the removal of fly-tipping,
  • •         a commitment to expand the building of council houses to tackle waiting lists and help provide local      people from Swansea with affordable homes.

There will also be a revamped Christmas parade in the city centre as part of an extra £200,000 to build on the success of high profile events such as the Wales National Airshow, which is becoming an annual fixture in Swansea's calendar, as well as a promise that all veterans' events staged in the city will be free.

Money will also be spent on making street lights more energy efficient, and on illuminating prominent buildings to make the city more attractive at night.

Cllr Stewart said the council had listened to feedback from its initial budget proposals following extensive consultation with residents and businesses, and these reflected its own priorities of protecting education, social services and other frontline services.

The budget represents an investment of almost £420m in the coming financial year including an extra £6m for education compared to last year.

Cllr Stewart said: "This extra investment in schools, social services, our roads, our environment and our city centre reflect Swansea people's priorities, which was clear from the consultation process.

"On top of the money we have already pledged for these services, today I have announced a number of initiatives that are designed to help residents and businesses and improve our city as a place to live, work and enjoy.

"These include a £1m fund for essential repairs to our schools and £500k for new 3G sports pitches which we will look to locate in schools but which will be available to the wider community.

"Local businesses in our outlying areas have asked for support and we will have targeted free parking on certain days to help them.

"Following on from the huge success of our 48-hour pothole repair pledge we will also make a rapid response to fly-tipping incidents in the city.

"It has always been our aim to attract and stage nationally significant events in Swansea that prove popular with residents and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to boost the local economy. We have made the Wales National Airshow an annual event and it is set to be bigger and better this year. We will re-introduce a bigger and better Christmas parade in the city centre and we are in discussions about further events, details of which will be announced as soon as we can."

Work is also under way on a new energy efficient council house development at Milford Way, with another set for Birchgrove. There are plans to extensively expand this programme in the future.

Cllr Stewart said: "We are working on a new housing delivery model that will see the council become a major house builder in Swansea, providing energy efficient affordable homes for Swansea people which will be funded directly by income from council house rents. We will also invest around £150m in our existing housing stock in the next three years."

Cllr Stewart said the increase in council tax had been kept as low as possible in the face of continued austerity and struck a sensible balance between the need to not only maintain but invest in current services, especially in education, but also recognise many families in Swansea were struggling to make ends meet.

He added: "I want to reassure families and householders that the extra income from council tax, equivalent to 45p per week, will go entirely to support services that make an important difference in residents' lives."

The council is continuing to make efficiency savings including reductions in senior management and support costs. Around 144 posts could be affected by the savings proposals, although the council has a strong track record in minimising compulsory redundancies.

The budget will now go to Full Council on February 23 for a final decision.


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