Building a positive outlook for 19/20

At the meeting of Full Council on Wednesday, 6th March, I was pleased to see that Members were able to agree Rhondda Cynon Taf’s revenue budget for the forthcoming year and three-year capital programme proposals.

Looking at other Authorities across Wales, our continued careful management of Council finances has meant that it is clearly a more positive picture here in RCT as we have once again been able to set the lowest council tax rise nationally at 3.6%, which will allow us to protect and enhance our key frontline services with no planned service cuts. Crucially, however, it also enables us allocate additional funding to the areas that matter the most to residents, with an extra £5.2m given to the Education budget; £6.4m to Community and Children’s Services, including social care services; and £1.474m to homelessness support and prevention.

We firmly recognise that our residents face the same financial challenges as the Council in this ongoing period of prolonged public austerity, and we have once again sought to strike a balance between ensuring that we can effectively run as many services as possible and also avoid transferring the burden on to our residents. This is reflected by the fact that the 3.6% rise agreed was comfortably below the average of 4.54% that residents indicated that they would be willing to pay in the recent budget consultation, in which over 4,000 residents responded – making it the biggest response to date – and I’d like to thank all of those who took their time to give us their views and shape our priorities for the coming year.

Once again, our diligent work throughout the year has enabled us to go over and above in achieving our ambitious efficiencies savings target of £6m – with a further £121,000 successfully identified. This builds on the £7m saved in the last financial year and demonstrates that, despite it being increasingly difficult to make these kinds of savings, we always look internally at the way in which we operate and conduct our business to make savings, where possible.

Meanwhile, the £173m three-year capital programme will allow us to build on the significant programme of investment delivered into communities across Rhondda Cynon Taf under our #RCTInvest programme. By the end of the current financial year, we will have invested almost £365m of capital across a range of our core priority areas – including over £170m in creating new and improved schools; £85m into highways, transportation and strategic projects; and £15m into parks, play areas, leisure centres and outdoor leisure facilities like 3G pitches over the last four years.

This will now mean it is the longest period of sustained investment in the County’s history and I believe that all of our residents will notice the improvements delivered under #RCTInvest – whether that is through an improved road surface, an upgraded play area, or even the construction of the newly-named Llys Cadwyn development in Pontypridd.

On the subject of Llys Cadwyn, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford AM visited the former Taff Vale Precinct site in Pontypridd on Thursday, 7th March to mark the official naming of the site, which, once completed in 2020, will see around 1,000 jobs situated in Pontypridd as Transport for Wales and Keolis Amey will be among a number of employers to utilise the development as their new base. The site will also house a number of community-use facilities as 3 Llys Cadwyn (formerly “Building C”) will incorporate a range of services including a new library and leisure facility.

I was also pleased to welcome the First Minister to the £7.2m Cwmaman Primary School earlier in the day for the official opening ceremony. It was fantastic to see the children benefiting from a new, state-of-the-art school which will no doubt be the pride of the community for years to come – having redeveloped the former Fforchaman Colliery site into a 21st Century facility for future generations to make use of.