08/16/2022

Wales News Online

Local & National News for Wales

When Councillor Lis Burnett gave her first speech as the new head of the Vale of Glamorgan Council, she noted that it felt strange to hear herself being referred to as “leader”.

The new leader of the local authority was officially confirmed in her new position at the council’s annual general meeting on Monday, May 23.

Cllr Burnett, who is succeeding former councillor Neil Moore, is the second woman to have held the title at the Vale Council.

In an interview, she delved deeper into what that means to her.

“On Monday I was walking [into] the council offices, and as I was walking in, it suddenly hit me,” said Cllr Burnett.

“I bumped into one of our officers and he extended his best wishes. For a couple of seconds I couldn’t speak.

“It is a huge honour, but particularly so in terms of being [the second] woman [to be leader].

“I think more to the point is being representative of the people that we serve and understanding the things that face them.

“I am really pleased that within the coalition we have got representation right across the Vale so that we understand the types of things that our community is facing and people know that they have [councillors] who they can go to.

“Being a woman demonstrates that diversity. Diversity is what we do and we have been gender balanced since 2008 as a Labour group.

“I am really pleased that our partners in the coalition, Llantwit First, are also gender balanced.”

With 25 seats on the council, Labour have opted to form a coalition with Llantwit First Independents, who have four seats, and independent councillor Michael Morgan.

The group has a history of working alongside Llantwit First, and Cllr Burnett said forming the coalition was fairly straightforward.

She said: “The types of things they want to see are what we want to [see], like the correct type of infrastructure in our communities.

“They have had concerns over infrastructure within Llantwit, particularly with the level of development that Llantwit has seen over recent years.

“In terms of health provision, we will be talking to the health board with [Llantwit First] about health provision in Llantwit Major. Is it sufficient and what opportunities are there to go forward? And this goes for the rural Vale per se.”

The Vale Council Labour group’s manifesto published prior to the 2022 local elections is a lengthy one.

There are a number of pledges that were made in relation to the environment, like expanding the number of e-bike rentals; communities, like spending an extra £660,000 on play areas; economic recovery; education; transport; and housing.

Touching on the group’s manifesto and their key priorities this term, Cllr Burnett said: “[The manifesto] was written because we knew what was deliverable, so we will be moving forward [with that]. Obviously some of this is going to be phased.

“We want to be spending a lot more of our money with local businesses. We did some really super stuff with our 21st century schools programme, with the amount of spend from that [on] local businesses and employing local people.

“We want to do more of that right across the board, but what we have got to do is make sure we are in contact with all of those businesses and that businesses understand the opportunities that are available.”

What about the group’s more immediate priorities?

Cllr Burnett added: “If I talk about immediate priority, [one] of the first things that I had when I came back in was a review of the impact of cost of living on people in the Vale, and that is stark.

“Right through the pandemic we have had regular updates on the economic impact of Covid.

“That is part of the reason why we did launch the food pod in Penarth because we suddenly discovered that there were some small pockets of extreme impact where people needed to be supported, and the cost of living review is similarly stark.

“The number of people who can’t see [themselves] being able to save a penny in the next year are the people who don’t know how they are going to pay fuel bills, and as our mayor said when she was installed on Monday, nobody should have to choose between heating their house and feeding their children.

“What we can do as a council is limited because an awful lot of those decisions [are dealt with by] the Welsh Government or Westminster, but we have to look at that and make sure we are doing our bit and [that] where we can support our communities, we do.”

One seemingly successful aspect of the Labour group’s previous administration was the council’s takeover over Penarth Pavilion.

In February 2021, the Vale Council took over operations at the pavilion after Penarth Arts & Crafts Ltd (PACL) surrendered the lease to the building.

The cafe in the pavilion is run by the council’s catering company, Big Fresh, with any surpluses made reinvested into school meals in the Vale.

Cllr Burnett said there is a real possibility of a similar model being applied to other buildings in the Vale, like The Kymin.

“Since 2000, I have been involved a lot in social enterprise and social entrepreneurship and it is a bit of a passion.

“In these difficult times, if something isn’t statutory services – if it isn’t social care and health – it is a struggle to fund it. That is taking up at least three-quarters of our budget.

“So, we have to find different ways of managing things. Because The Kymin had been shut for a year by the time it came back to us, there was no existing customer base, whereas with the pavilion people had been used to using it.

“We took a bit of time to look at it and yes, we are doing a very similar thing.

“It will work in partnership with the pavilion. [It] will be very much [about being] a space for local people, but also we hope somewhere for visitors to go. We have some open-air theatre coming in.

“We have the community working on the gardens and that is going forward well.

“We have [also] talked about Arts Central in Barry and how we want that to be a thriving buzzing space. We are going to do the same sort of thing.”

In the group’s manifesto, there is a pledge to include proposals for a new multi-arts and education centre in the Western Vale in the Council’s Arts Strategy.

Cllr Burnett added: “We think the model that we have got will work in the rural Vale [too].

“That is something again [that we are] talking to our members in the rural Vale about – leading a conversation with their communities as to what is needed, what it would look like and how we can make it work, and I would hope that within this administration that we can deliver something like that.”

One of the fundamental aspects of the Labour group’s new reign will be breaking down barriers between the council and residents, according to Cllr Burnett.

Although only one councillor holds a cabinet role with ‘community engagement’ in its title – Councillor Ruba Sivagnanam, who is Cabinet Member for Community Engagement, Equalities and Regulatory Services – Cllr Burnett said community engagement will be a cross-portfolio responsibility.

“Nothing we do should be about box-ticking,” she said.

“There should be a fundamental purpose, there should be evidence underpinning it so that if somebody says to us ‘why are you doing that? I don’t like it’, we should be able to say that we understand this view, but have a look at the evidence that we have got.

“We should be spending a lot more time providing clarification so that people can understand where [a decision] has come from.

“We need to do more of explaining our thinking going forward. Every single cabinet member has a responsibility [there].

“We will be out and about a lot more, we will be in communication with people an awful lot more because people will only trust you if you have earned that trust, if you are honest, if you provide those clarifications and if you listen as a cabinet.”

 

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