The principal issue preoccupying all Labour councillors, including Mary and Nick, has been the upcoming budget. Much of this is still under discussion and some of it is embargoed. However, those who were present at the all-members’ meeting on November 7th will have an idea of the issues involved and the difficulties we face, namely a £24 million shortfall. This is due to the austerity policies of the Tories in Westminster who are starving the Welsh Assembly of the funds it needs. We as Labour members must at all times when we speak to the public put the blame where it lies. The Tories and their media have relentlessly and to some extent successfully established the narrative that the last Labour government caused the financial crisis by overspending on public services. We need to do the same with our message.
The prioritization of health over local government in Welsh Government budgets is a concern. In some ways this is a corrective from previous policies in the early part of the decade in which Welsh councils were protected from ‘English cuts’. Notwithstanding changes made to its tax and borrowing powers, the Welsh Assembly is dependent on a finite block grant from Westminster under the devolution settlement.
Austerity & Welfare Reform
The effects of one Tory policy, namely the roll-out of UC, on the communities of Swansea could be catastrophic. A motion calling for a pause in roll-out until it is fixed attracted all-party support in Council last month (in contrast to a recent motion condemning the cancellation of rail electrification which the Tories refused to support). There is coverage of it here, with a quote from Mary.
The £42 figure in this report (which affected working families will be losing per week, on average) is slightly incorrect. A research report analysing the impacts of Welfare Reform in Swansea put this figure at £46. Some households will be affected a good deal more. The report indicates that overall Swansea could lose thirty-odd million pounds a year from the local economy through welfare cuts, and this was based on analysis of Housing Benefit recipients only (it did not include recipients of Tax Credits who don’t get HB).
Mary will write a piece for the branch website summarising the main points that make Universal Credit so challenging for recipients, many of which are not mentioned in the above article, and anticipated impacts on the local economy and community. She and her co-spokesperson for welfare reform in WLGA have written to David Gauke MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, expressing their concerns and calling for a pause. The letter echoes one previously sent by the WLGA spokesperson for Housing, on behalf of all 22 relevant Welsh cabinet members.
The public consultation period for the redrafted HMO has started. Mary and Nick attended a ‘workshop’ with consultants, officers, councillors and invited members of the public. It was at times a frustrating affair. The consultants were apparently unaware that living next to a HMO is different from living next to a family home and appeared to be hearing only for the first time about the effects on residents’ quality of life of badly managed HMOs. Moreover, they were unclear on the legal position regarding thresholds and the effectiveness or otherwise of these against appeal. We are frustrated that at officer and cabinet level there is still a silo mentality regarding the Council’s approach to HMO management. Residents see one problem and one council, but are bewildered that parking, refuse left inside gardens, refuse left on the pavement, flytipping in lanes and noise are all dealt with by apparently different departments.
We have expressed this to the Leader and have asked for feedback from the Environmental Health call centre about how a more joined-up approach can be taken, at least to reporting back to the complainant so they know what is being dealt with, when, by whom, what isn’t and why. We are due to meet a planning officer next week to go through our list of the impacts HMOs have on an area and how a HMO differs from a family home, ahead of a meeting with other councilors and officers later the same week. We will bring this list to branch for input.
The planning application to turn the iconic Cricketers pub into student flats has been approved by the planning committee. We both opposed this, organising a petition and calling in the application to committee. A report in the SWEP is here:
There is now a public consultation, organized by Wheelrights, on the proposal for a cycle lane on either side of Mansel Street and Walter Road, from the end of the new Kingsway to Uplands Crescent, with parking one side only. This is an implementation of Council manifesto commitments on sustainable travel and encouraging the modal shift away from car. The cycle lane will make cycling safer, keep cyclists from using the pavement and reduce congestion. It is on a strategically important commuter route and thus promotes connectivity, increasing cycling provision where people live and work. Please support this. You can vote in Schmoos, Uplands News , Colliers and Overland Cycles.
Mary and Nick attended a meeting organized by Wheelwrights in which Jayne Cornelius, Swansea University’s sustainable transport officer spoke about the Swansea bid for a bike sharing scheme, sponsored by Santander and underwritten by the University. Details of the crowdfunding scheme to try to win this for Swansea are here
Jayne also spoke about the popularity of the No. 8 campus to campus bus service and the No 10 from Uplands to the student accommodation in the city centre (which of course everyone can use).
Neighbourhood Police Team
We met with Sgt Mark Watkins of the Neighbourhood Police Team, a newly formed team covering Uplands, Castle and other areas and taking a particular focus on “quality of life” issues such as noise, anti social behaviour, drug crime, car crime etc. Mary has contacted them twice about noisy student parties and they have been very helpful. In the course of this however, we have discovered that people are not getting a helpful response when they dial 101, which is what police have advised residents to use for reporting immediate incidents of alarming/distressing noise disturbance. Examples of disappointing 101 response should be reported to Mary and Nick to take up with police.
Night-time Economy: Cumulative Impact Policy
Sgt Watkins was concerned about the increasing amount of nightlife in Uplands and the risks that come with it. In the past, police have not supported councillors’ calls for a Cumulative Impact Policy (which puts the onus on a developer to prove how their proposal will NOT harm an area, rather than on the planning offers/committee to prove how it WILL), saying that all local establishment have good staff and protocols enforcing good behaviour and monitoring safety. Sgt Watkins indicated that with a more current focus on preventative action the police would now support a CIP, so Mary and Nick will be pursuing this.
Members may be interested to hear that a gender stereotyping seminar was held, inviting teachers, classroom assistants, youth workers and others to consider the impacts of gender stereotyping on children, their ambitions, their behaviours and society. This came from a member of the play team enquiring with some members of the LGBT community about how their work could better respond to LGBT issues. They said that the way that children are socialised into supposedly masculine or feminine roles is fundamental to the difficulty and discrimination their community members (who do not conform to these stereotypes) face, and of course it underpins many enduring problems and inequalities in society. The seminar was popular and successful, and Mary will be working with relevant officers to build upon it. Any members who would like to contribute their thoughts about this work are welcome to get in touch.
Road sweeper noise
We referred a complaint from a resident on Chesshyre St about a noisy road sweeper at 5:45 am. to the relevant Cabinet Member, who reported back that there is a need to tackle fallen leaves this early on Brynmill Lane to stay ahead of rush hour. It seems highly antisocial and we would be interested to know if any other residents in that part of Brynmill have found this noise disturbing. If so (or if not) please get in touch.
Budget discussions have included debates on parking issues. Currently, running the residents’ parking scheme costs £100,000 per year and no fees are charged to cover this cost. The consensus is that we would really rather not introduce any admin fee for residents. Pay and display for non-residents has been suggested. This may discourage the numerous commuters and day-visitors who clog up Uplands, but there are significant set-up costs with purchasing the machines etc. While wider discussions are still progressing it does not seem wise to push forward any suggestions for controlled parking in Uplands (which Nick has been discussing with relevant officers), as any decisions may be negated by approaches agreed countywide and/or for budget reasons.
Cllr Nick Davies & Cllr Mary Sherwood 11.11.17