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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Fighting for Swansea Schools

On Thursday, I had a quick meeting with the Welsh Education Minister to demand an explanation as to why Swansea was at the bottom of her list for handing out capital grants to repair local schools.

I am concerned that out of £114 million handed out to Councils just over a week ago, Swansea only received £2.8 million, of which £1.1 million is new money in 2009-10. This was despite submitting a list of fully-worked up bids, the vast majority of which met the Minister’s strict criteria for funding.

It is bizarre, in my view that despite Swansea being one of the few Councils with a full assessment of the condition of its local schools and a clear plan as to how to proceed to tackle a £147 million backlog, the Government treat it so badly. We are Wales’ second City and the third largest Council and yet the capital grant that has been made available to us is derisory. Furthermore there was not a penny to help the City’s two Further Education Colleges either.

One of the decisions I was questioning was the failure to provide any money for the project at Pontarddulais Primary School, which was second on the Council’s list of priorities and met all the Minister’s criteria. I have been promised a written note on that issue.

Although the Minister promised that Swansea would do better in the next tranche of funding in June I am concerned that she has failed to grasp the urgency of the need to invest in the City’s schools. There appears to be less money available for school buildings than there was last year and some of us have the very real impression that this issue is no longer a priority for the Welsh Government.

It is time that the Welsh Cabinet Ministers who represent Swansea also weighed in and demanded an explanation as to why the Labour-Plaid Cymru Government are refusing to provide money to invest in the City’s schools.
Just to check, the WAG is Labour-Plaid, but Swansea is run by the LDs/Inds?

Wales never changes!
Swansea council needs to take responsibility for it's mismanagement of the council budget. The council has based a whole range of projects on projected income which has failed to materialise due to the recession. Millions have also been lost on the Egovernment project, and millions have been wasted on a gimmick - the bendy bus - which is just not needed in Swansea.

The Lib Dem led coalition pushed these projects and the Lib Dems should take responsibility for them.
Anon: actually the sole Plaid Cymru member of Swansea Council also forms part of the administration.

Draig: you should stop believing your own propaganda. Firstly, you are referring to revenue expenditure whereas this post is about capital.

Secondly and more importantly, you have got all your facts wrong. There is no mismanagement of Swansea's budget. Not only was expenditure matched by resources last financial year but we have a balanced budget next year that includes a £10m contingency fund. That is quite prudent management.

There are no projects based on projected income as you suggest though you may be mistakenly referring to the e-government project which has largely been a success in modernising the way the Council is run. Admittedly there are problems with the pay roll system but then no IT project ever runs smoothly.

It is also true that the anticipated savings from e-government never materialised and that is regrettable but they were never budgetted for so there was no impact on services.

As for the Metro bus, it is not a gimmick, it is part of a strategy to switch towards increased use of public transport. I would have thought that the Labour-Plaid Government would be in favour of that. That is especially so as all the expenditure on it has come from Welsh government grant and it was originally conceived by a Labour Assembly Minister. The buses themselves will be purchased by First Cymru.

We are nevertheless happy to take responsibility for it.
The bendy bus is a gimmick. In the first instance many of Swansea's roads are not adapted for a vehicle of this nature, and so huge disruption has been caused across the city itself. How is this a good advertisement for public transport in Swansea?

Of course Cardiff has bendy buses, but there's a fundamental difference: Cardiff is a bigger city and it's roads are wider and more well adapted for vehicles of this nature. Swansea is a unique city and requires solutions that reflect it's identity.

In any case it doesn't address wider issues such as cross-ticketing and the lack of integration with different bus companies across the general region, and it doesn't address the fact that some routes, particularly coming from Llanelli for example, are regularly overcrowded and need more bus space.

The fact that First Cymru is operating this route sums it up really: public money is effectively subsidising a private company! We pay to create the route, First Group gets the profits. Will they use those profits to lay on more services across other parts of the region? I doubt it.
Your comment is off-topic Draig and therefore I do not propose to allow it to develop into a thread however, now you are contradicting yourself.

Firstly the Metro buses being introduced into Swansea are not the same as Cardiff's bendy buses.

Secondly, if you have ever travelled on or followed a bendy bus in Cardiff you will know that your assertion that the roads in the Capital City are better suited to it is nonsense.

Thirdly, the whole point of Swansea's investment is to create a dedicated route for the Metro that will ensure that it is able to operate without disrupting other traffic and that it can deliver its passengers quickly and effectively to their destination. How is that a gimmick?

How many bus companies do you think operate across the South Wales West Region? Most routes are First Cymru routes and so the issue of cross ticketing does not arise. First Cymru are putting their own investment into the service.

If you are complaining of course that public money is subsidising a private company then you should make that complaint to Ieuan Wyn Jones as it is his department that is funding the capital works. There is no revenue subsidy for the Metro.

You will be aware of course that all 22 Councils use public money as a matter of course to subsidise private bus companies to put on buses on unprofitable routes. That money also comes from WAG. Why are you not criticising that if you think this is ideologically unsound?
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