[NOTE: Councillor K. Madge had earlier declared an interest in this item.]
The Leader presented his annual report, copies of which were made available at the meeting, which looked back upon the achievements of the Council over the past 12 months. This year’s report was slightly different as it drew to a conclusion not only the last municipal year but also the 5 year term of the Council.
The recent elections saw the retirement of a number of long serving Councillors and other members whose term of office had ended. He referred to their desire to represent their local communities and praised their contribution to the work of the Council over the years. He paid particular tribute to Councillor Meryl Gravell for her commitment and dedication to the Council and her sincere desire to make Carmarthenshire a better place for all its residents.
He referred to the two very distinct promises he made when he became Leader namely that we would focus on regeneration across the county and that we would protect frontline services. The Executive Board fully embraced his vision for the county and he thanked them for their contribution to what has been a hugely successful year for the Council, all of which had been achieve in the face of savage cut-backs in public spending by the Welsh and UK governments.
The Leader pointed out that securing the Swansea Bay City Deal was unquestionably the highlight of the last year. It is the biggest ever investment in south west Wales. Carmarthenshire will benefit from three specific projects – a Wellness and Life Science Village in Llanelli, a creative industry project at Yr Egin in Carmarthen and a skills and talent initiative which will support skills development for the whole region.
He referred to the fact that over the last 12 months the Council has:-
· Invested many millions of pounds in exciting projects to create hundreds of well-paid jobs to help keep our young people in our county;
· Launched the 1,000 affordable homes programme, including building 60 council houses;
· Kept the council tax rise to 2.5%;
· Protected schools from real cuts to funding;
· Protected Social Services and found extra money for essential highways repairs;
· Given our lowest-paid staff a well-deserved 2.6% pay rise.
Two main events in the last year will have a significant and long lasting effect on local government in Wales. Firstly, the Minister for Local Government losing his seat in the Welsh Assembly elections in May 2016, which brought an abrupt end to the proposal for the reorganisation of local government and introduced in its place a far greater emphasis on collaboration between councils. Carmarthenshire has fully embraced this concept and the success of the Swansea Bay City Deal speaks eloquently of our determination to work closely with neighbouring authorities. Secondly, there was the decision taken by the British people to leave the European Union. Carmarthenshire County Council has benefitted enormously from EU funding over many years and the result of last year’s referendum is likely to leave us with a funding shortfall. We will have to wait and see if the government in Westminster will live up to its promises to plug the gap.
The Leader stated that he was proud of what has been achieved in Carmarthenshire in just two short years, however, there was much more to do and he was confident that the new Executive Board will take up the challenge and will press on with the work of creating more jobs, raising living standards, providing affordable homes and making our communities event better places in which to live and work.
The Chair thanked the Leader for his report and presentation and invited the Leader of the Opposition Group to respond.
The Leader of the Labour Group thanked the Leader of the Council for his report. He congratulated the Council on what has been accomplished and referred to the contribution of the previous administration in those achievements. He complimented the Chief Executive and former Councillor Meryl Gravell on the success of the Swansea Bay City Deal scheme in Llanelli and the investment and jobs the scheme will bring to the area. He referred to the importance of the Council becoming as green as possible and the need to work together on this initiative. He asked the administration to look carefully at any budget cuts especially in education as class sizes are increasing at an alarming rate.
The Chair thanked the Leader of the Labour Group for his response and invited the Leader of the Independent Group to comment on the report.
The Leader of the Independent Group stated that the Leader’s report bring together all the excellent work being undertaken by the Authority. She added that regeneration takes time but coalitions are there to make sure that things move forward. She referred to the fact that such a report would be difficult for other Authorities to meet as we have a very different way of working in Carmarthenshire. We have a vision and we stick to that vision. She conceded that there are challenges but we will face those and we will work through them.
UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED that the Leader’s Annual report, as circulated at the meeting, be noted.