NEWPORT City Council’s Cabinet has agreed how it will spend its budget for the coming year with a focus on education, support, quality of life and the future of the city.

One major change to proposals put forward in January is to the council tax rate. A rise of 3.7 per cent was originally proposed, but following overwhelming feedback from the public consultation, this has been reduced to only 2.4 percent.

Councillor Jane Mudd, leader of the council, said:

“We know that families and individuals across Newport are feeling the pressure of increased living costs, plus the pandemic has also affected the income of many.

“Although council tax makes up less than one-quarter of the council’s budget, we fully appreciate that it represents a considerable bill for residents – so we’ve listened and brought it down even lower.”

At the January Cabinet meeting, investments totalling £15m were presented and went out for consultation. Thanks to a positive settlement from Welsh Government – the grant that makes up nearly three quarters of the council budget – there was also around £3.9 million yet to be allocated that could be invested in priority areas.

Using the feedback from residents about what services are most important to them, some of the key investments agreed include:

£8m for schools

Councillor Mudd commented:

“Schools and students have been hit particularly hard over the last two years and have done an amazing job in adapting and continuing to deliver education. The increase, which represents a 7.3 per cent growth in schools’ budgets, will benefit every school and student.”

Schools and education ranked the highest ranked priority area for people in our surveys.

A further £900,000 investment will also support the increased uptake in free school meals across all school years.

£6.5m investment in care, support and prevention services over and above inflation

Within this, £1.1m will be used to support social care services and workers, including paying valued social care staff the Real Living Wage from April 2022. An extra £190k will be used to help people access support services, helping them live independently, and £243k will be used to boost the ‘When I’m ready’ scheme which supports care leavers up to the age of 25. £129k will create additional capacity within the safeguarding hub to support families in crisis.

Councillor Mudd noted:

“There is an increase in demand for social care. Sustaining care packages and residential care for older and vulnerable adults is an area of considerable challenge, well documented in the press. Within these investments we will increase the capacity of the service, improve conditions for workers and invest more money into preventative services which help people maintain a safe and independent life. Again, this was one of the top priority areas for people in our surveys.”

 

 £420k to prevent and address homelessness

“We must take a strategic approach to prevent and address homelessness in Newport. We will continue to address the vision as set out by Welsh Government, and continue the excellent work done during the pandemic to ensure everyone has a safe home that meets their needs and supports a healthy, successful, and prosperous life.

“For this to happen we need to help people in crisis so that they can quickly enter long-term accommodation and thrive there. We will continue to put our energy and resources to preventing homelessness from happening in the first place” said Councillor Mudd.

 

Summarising, Councillor Mudd highlighted that this represents a total investment of over £16m to support schools, early intervention, and prevention services to protect the most vulnerable.

 

 £377k to boost the city centre

“We want to support a positive future for the city centre and the businesses within it. In particular, the promotion of the city, inward investment, coordination of activities and events, tourism, and the general environment in and around the city” said Councillor Mudd.

Within this, an extra £200k will be put toward cleansing – a key requests highlighted in the consultation feedback.

Focus will also be placed on developing and implementing a cultural strategy, strengthening the way we work with city centre businesses and partnerships to develop relationships and projects, and improving the appearance of the city centre, boosting its appeal and encouraging business and investment.

Councillor Mudd added: “I have also instructed officers to work on a follow-on scheme for discretionary rate relief for businesses which will dovetail with the work of Welsh Government – details of this will be brought to the March Council meeting.”

 

 More than £2.5m to improve parks and open spaces

“The benefits and importance of being outdoors has only been amplified over the last few years and we want residents and families to connect further within their local communities.

“This commitment covers both a one-off investment to make improvements and an ongoing increased budget for future maintenance and repair” said Councillor Mudd.

It includes a £2.5m one-off investment in parks and open spaces which will be funded through the revenue underspend at the end of the year, plus an extra £300k over the next two years for ongoing maintenance and improvements.

 

 £200k to support climate change and carbon neutral agenda

Local authorities play an essential role in driving local climate action. A recurring commitment for the next two years will help progress the council’s net-zero strategy and fund important changes including improvements to our fleet and energy use.

 

 Planning for ongoing issues caused by the pandemic

The Covid-10 pandemic has changed so many things and will continue have an impact on services and demand for many years to come. Some of these impacts remain unknown and to ensure the council is best placed to respond and react, £2m has been set aside. This money will be re-prioritised if not needed when there is more certainty of the risks and actual impact.

Councillor Mudd concluded: “The increase in funding for next year is significant but so too are the cost pressures and priority investments. I hope that the plans set out today demonstrate that we are committed to recovery, redevelopment and improvement, while making sure we deliver effective frontline services and support our young people and most vulnerable residents in the best way we can.”

The proposed council tax increase will now go before full council on Tuesday 1 March.

By Gwynoro Jones

Former MP for Carmarthenshire, Gwynoro Jones joined the team covering politics in Wales. He has a wealth of experience in politics and has been a regular commentator on radio, TV and in newspapers in Wales. Email: gwynorojones@walesnewsonline.com

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