When the Welsh Liberal Democrats took control of Swansea Council in 2004, in partnership with other parties, they were faced with putting right 24 years of neglect. These were just some of the issues we had to address:
- Swansea Leisure Centre had just closed due to inadequate maintenance;
- Our council tax was sky-high, having risen by an average of 7.63% under Labour.
- A repairs and modernisation backlog for our schools of nearly £300 million;
- A £600,000 backlog of action needed to replace dangerous street lights;
- The City Centre was in decline, with the last successful shopping development having taken place in 1979 with the Quadrant;
- A multi-million repair bill to renovate and repair City Centre car parks;
- roads and pavements needed a £32 million investment to bring them up to standard;
- A Labour Government had just closed 22 Post Offices in the City;
- The pension fund for council workers was £4 million in deficit;
- The Guildhall was in need of £30 million of repairs and renovation;
Our record in power really does speak for itself. We:
- Re-opened the Leisure Centre;
- Kept Council Tax rises at their lowest level for decades culminating in a zero increase in 2012-13. The average council tax rise under the Welsh Liberal Democrats was 3.44% - this was less than half that under Labour;
- Built the new bus station that Labour had promised would be finished by 2003 but which they failed to deliver on;
- Introduced the NEAT Teams to clean up grot spots and fly-tipping in areas where the council would not normally venture;
- Modernised the council’s administration with new computer systems – previously the council did not even know how many people it employed;
- Opened the new central library and one-stop contact centre in the civic centre;
- Introduced free bus travel for the under-16s in school holidays;
- Finished off the Liberty Stadium by installing under-pitch heating and fitting out the bars – items not budgeted for by Labour - and ensured that the Swans were able to maximise their investment in the team through favourable leasing arrangements;
- Developed the derelict David Evans site, a store which closed under the previous Labour administration. This is still the only successful retail investment in the City Centre since 1979;
- Invested tens of millions of pounds into school buildings including building Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Llwynderw, the first ever purpose-built Welsh medium Primary School in Swansea, and getting the funding for the new Burlais Primary School;
- Put in place the council’s first comprehensive programme of school improvement, which is still being followed by the council today.
- Protected school budgets and - through our influence in the Welsh Assembly - between 2012 and 2016 secured £22.4 million of extra money for poorer pupils by way of the Pupil Deprivation Grant;
- Employed additional enforcement officers to tackle the issues of Houses in Multiple Occupation in the Uplands and Castle wards.
- Launched a major investment in upgrading street lights across the City with a potential saving of hundreds of thousands of pounds for council taxpayers;
- Cut allowances for senior Councillors by 20% so saving £1 million over six years;
- Doubled recycling rates to 45% and increased greenery in the City Centre
- Invested millions of pounds in upgrading pedestrianised areas of the City Centre and opened up a new surface car park at the bottom of Princess Way.
When Labour took power again in 2012 it was on a promise of a fresh start. However so far, all their posturing about major investment in the City Centre has come to nothing. They have shown that once again they can’t turn plans into reality. When we were in charge we delivered so far this Labour-run council is failing miserably. It has:
- Reverted to type on council tax - increasing our bills by 23% since 2012 - an average of 4.6% a year.
- Left schools languishing at the bottom of the Welsh funding league. Education funding in Swansea as a whole ranks at 21st out of 22 in 2016 and £444 per pupil less than the Wales average.
- Scrapped free bus passes for the under-16s in school holidays;
- Approved increases in allowances for senior councillors;
- Proposed demolishing the popular central library with no guarantee of a like-for-like replacement:
- Put community libraries under threat of closure.
- Introduced new salaried deputy cabinet posts for Labour Councillors;
- Threatened to close residential homes and day centres such as St John’s House;
- Caused additional fly-tipping pressure by limiting the number of black bags we can put out each week and banning them from some recycling centres;
- Cost us over a quarter of a million pounds in legal fees by attempting to withdraw free school transport from Catholic schools;
- Cut school budgets in each of the last three years;
- Cost us £100,000 in legal fees whilst trying to block the refurbishment of Parc Tawe;
- Taken Swansea Council to the bottom of a league table of Wales’ 22 councils which ranks councils in terms of the quality of services they deliver;
- Dragged its feet in putting in place supplementary planning guidance on Houses in Multiple Occupation, in contrast to the quick action by Cardiff Council. This has left local communities vulnerable to a further extension of Houses in Multiple Occupation.
- Dismantled standing scrutiny committees in favour of ad-hoc working groups which it can dominate; and
- Mishandled the demolition of Oceana so that the cost rose by 400% to over £4 million.
Delivering a fairer Swansea
Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to turning Swansea around. We have imaginative plans to see the development of a sustainable and viable city centre built around specialist and niche shops emulating the success of the lanes in Brighton. This would take advantage of having more people in the city centre as a result of the City deal investment and the development of additional housing and student accommodation.
We will provide free City Centre parking outside the main office hours and review traffic management so as to get better traffic flows into Swansea.
We will continue to focus on improving education and training, protecting school budgets wherever possible and building up a strong skills base to attract high value employers who stay.
We will work in partnership with Swansea’s two universities, FE College and employers to develop new innovation centres, particularly in the field of life science and new technology so as to build a sustainable base of well-paid employment in the City. In particular we will promote courses in entrepreneurial and enterprise skills, look to establish young people’s community enterprise centres and put in place mentoring support for new start-ups.
We will work with partners to tackle the shortage of affordable housing, including continuing the programme of building new council homes, and working with housing associations and others to use house building as a key driver of regeneration with mixed use developments such as the urban village in High Street, focussing on employment and services.
We will seek to protect front line services such as local libraries by co-locating them where possible with other services, and developing them as centres where you can access council and other public services.
We will look to keep residential homes and day centres open wherever possible and help them to meet the changing demands of their clients by updating and modernising them.
We will continue to improve access for people with disabilities and in particular those who experiences difficulties with mobility.
We will continue to monitor and improve air quality around the city and county.
We will work with voluntary groups such as Friends of local parks and Friends of Swansea Slip Bridge to maximise grant and private sector investment in leisure and recreational facilities around Swansea without compromising those key assets.
We will work in partnership with bus companies to ensure that all communities in Swansea have regular and reliable services on a hub-and-spoke model.
We will ensure that all new road schemes incorporate cycle routes and work with cycling groups to develop new routes around the City.
We will work with bus companies to get discounted travel for 16-18 year olds to enable them to travel to training and education and explore putting in place free bus travel for under-18s in school holidays.
We will protect local parks, community centres and key communal hubs such as Castle Square, keeping them in public ownership and open to community use.
We will continue to empower local county councillors by providing generous community budgets and, in partnership with them, seek to develop more effective and dedicated community teams to manage rubbish, cleansing, highways, parks and leisure facilities and other council services in wards, in partnership with local councillors.
We will ensure that council standing committees are able to build up expertise in particular subject areas so they can properly scrutinise what goes on and shine the spotlight on key services to secure the best value for money for Swansea residents.
We will take advantage of the development of a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay to promote Swansea as a ‘renewable energy city’, attracting further investment from the renewable energy sector.
We will continue to embrace Swansea’s status as a City of Sanctuary and welcome the rich cultural diversity and economic prosperity that this status offers.
We will restore the culture of openness, transparency and engagement that we succeeded in developing in the council between 2004 and 2012 and which has been lost under Labour.
We will use any new powers given to us by the Welsh Government to hold future council elections in Swansea using the Single Transferable Vote system, so as to ensure the outcome reflects the way people voted. We believe this will produce a more accountable council delivering better services in line with local people’s wishes.
We will aim to deliver value for money at all times and always consider the impact on people’s pockets when setting council tax.