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Budget performance will help council manage Coronavirus challenge

Swansea Council's Cabinet has agreed the benefits of an improved budget position for the last financial year be used to offset financial pressures on the council in the year ahead.

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A financial report to Cabinet today detailed how the council's budget position for 2019/20 had improved by £18m compared to estimates set out at the beginning of the financial year.

It revealed a better than expected position in social services, and a careful use of the council's contingency fund amounting to just over £11m between them.

This has been boosted by a further £7m of capital financing savings as part of the medium term strategy to fund the overall capital programme and future borrowing.

Cllr Leader Rob Stewart said the money would be used to offset financial pressures, invest in services and help manage the impact of Coronavirus over the coming months.

He said the report demonstrated that the planned and prudent approach to managing the council's finances has been working and showed the council was not only able to balance the books but invest in services in the coming years.

Cllr Stewart said: "The changes seen in services in the last few months have been the most dramatic, most remarkable and most community-focussed changes there's probably ever seen other than in wartime

"Despite the fact the Welsh Government is starting to ease lockdown, the virus is still very much with us and a second wave is possible. We have to acknowledge that it could be many months before we can safely say that it is dealt with.

"In the meantime we are helping protect thousands of elderly and vulnerable people still shielding from the virus. We are supporting foodbanks, cooking meals for those who can't do it for themselves, finding homes so no-one need be homeless during the pandemic.

"Hundreds of our staff are doing different jobs to the ones they've been used to, such as manning new call centres for the elderly, working in communities to support volunteers doing their bit for their neighbours.

"At the same time we've maintained critical services like kerbside recycling and waste services, we've filled in more than 880 potholes and we've continued to keep care homes open.

"We are gradually re-opening other services like public toilets, some library services and registrar services. We've also built a field hospital for Swansea Bay University Health Board which was fully funded short-term by the Council and is due to be repaid in full.

"And of course, as we have already reported, we have pumped over £85m into local businesses through a combination of cash business grants and substantial business rates relief on behalf of the Welsh government

"And used our financial flexibility to rapidly build the Bay Field Hospital on behalf of the Welsh Government and SBUHB

"So far this incredible effort has cost around £120m and that will increase over time. While we're expecting to get most of this back from Welsh Government, this year's additional balance is a very welcome safety net to help offset some of these unavoidable costs."

Cllr Stewart said the end of year position demonstrated that many commentators had been premature in their judgment of the council's financial position. Despite the challenges of a decade of austerity due to Westminster budget reductions for Wales and Swansea, the council was continuing to manage its resources effectively to invest in better services, protect jobs and serve communities.

The report to Cabinet shows that forecast savings requirements from departments were mostly achieved and overall significantly exceeded, demonstrating that resources were continuing to be effectively and efficiently directed to supporting frontline services.


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