At the full Council meeting last Wednesday (28th November), I delivered my annual State of the County Borough Address to Members, outlining the progress we have made as a Council over the last year and also our priorities for the year ahead.

Despite the false proclamations from the UK Government, austerity is set to remain as the main feature of public services for the foreseeable future, although our careful management of our finances and our ambitious approach to capital investment continues to see a fairly positive picture continuing to develop here in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

As part of the Debate, I outlined the excellent progress being made in the delivery of first-class education facilities for our young people through the 21st Century Schools programme, which is delivered in partnership with the Welsh Government.  We have recently seen a whole host of schools open across the County Borough through the £160m Band A phase, including the Cwmaman Community Primary School (£7.2m), Ysgol Nantgwyn (£13.5m), and the primary school element of the Tonyrefail 3-19 school.  We are currently consulting on proposals to deliver further schemes under the Band B aspect in the upper Cynon Valley and wider Pontypridd areas.  We also increased the schools budget by £2m in 2018/19 and we are consulting on a further increase in 2019/20 as part of our budget consultation process - Take part in our budget consultation.

Members were also given an update on the excellent progress made in improving our highways and transportation network over recent years.  Cabinet recently approved plans to invest a further £23.5m to accelerate our highways improvement programme over the next three years.  In 2011/12, the percentage of classified roads in the red condition category (those requiring attention) was 15.7% and last year I reported that we had reduced it to 7.2%.  I was pleased to report to Members that there had been further progress in this area, with the percentage now just 4.8% - which highlights the sheer volume of work we have undertaken to improve our highways network over recent years.  Since 2011/12, over 1,000 carriageway schemes and 350 footway schemes have been completed, with over 150 carriageway improvements and 100 footway improvements made in the last year alone.  We have also invested significantly in improving our structures, with 33 completed projects since 2011, with £7.394m committed to this area in 2018/19 alone.

Elsewhere, the success of our Town Centre Maintenance Grant means that the Cabinet will shortly be considering a report to further extend the scheme to Porth, Ferndale and Aberdare, following the 97 applications received to date in Treorchy, Mountain Ash and Tonypandy.  We are also making excellent progress on the redevelopment of the Taff Vale site, with the steel structure now in place for “Building C”; and we are also consulting on positive regenerations schemes for Porth and Mountain Ash town centres.

Our leisure investment is continuing to pay dividends with a further four 3G facilities opening this year in Abercynon, Garth Olwg, Porth and Ferndale - taking the number of delivered facilities to 11 with a further two schemes being progressed at Bryncelynnog Comprehensive and YG Rhydywaun.  We have also recently opened the fantastic Ron Jones Stadium in Aberdare in a £3m investment, whilst the 3G development at Bryncelynnog will also come with an athletics track around the perimeter.  We hope to make an announcement regarding possible improvements to the King George V facility in Tonypandy early next year as well.

Our continued investment in children’s play facilities will see 27 play areas improved by the end of this financial year.  Since 2015, we have improved 97 play areas (45% of our stock) through a £3.2m investment - this constitutes over half of the total play area improvements in the whole of Wales during this period.

Despite these positive developments, we must always remain realistic in our approach, and we recognise that real-terms revenue shortfalls over the last nine years have placed significant pressures on our frontline services.  Like many other Councils across Wales, our social services and education sectors continue to be squeezed by a combination of the diminished funding and a continually increasing demand on these services, driven by inflationary increases.  We will always seek to make efficiencies and look at the way in which we operate as a corporate body to address our budget gaps, to avoid transferring the effects of austerity onto our residents, where possible.

Posted on 04/12/2018