08/03/2017

Ceredigion - achieving despite austerity cuts


This is my speech to the Plaid Cymru Spring Conference in Newport on some of the things achieved in Ceredigion in the fields of transport, waste and carbon management:

One year into Ceredigion’s first Plaid Cymru-led administration (which began in 2012),  the Conservative & Lib Dem austerity cuts hit us. And, like every other council, we were faced with devastating cuts in our core grant from the Welsh Government - in fact over 25% of our revenue budget.

So it’s been tough - very tough - as it has been for all councils. But, from the ashes of those cuts imposed on us, we’ve managed to do some useful things.

It’s easy to be gloomy. So we started an initiative called Caru Ceredigion which encourages our residents to think positive, love where they live, take responsibility and do their bit to contribute.

For example we’ve encouraged people to get out there and do a spot of litter-picking with equipment provided by the Council. And maybe it’s no coincidence that, this year, Ceredigion has the tidiest streets in Wales, according to the latest report by Keep Wales Tidy on behalf of the Welsh Government. 

Transport’s been more difficult. Because, on top of the core cuts  to council budgets, local bus services have been subject to additional cuts to their grants from Welsh Government. Despite that, we’ve worked co-operatively with them where we can, like on the T1 and T5 Trawscymru long-distance routes through Ceredigion and the innovative Bwcabus, which provides a service on request for areas that lack the population to sustain regular services. At a time when buses are thought to be declining in popularity, all of these services I’ve mentioned have shown an increase in passengers every year.

With rail, Ceredigion took a lead, amongst others, in the successful campaign for a peak-hourly service on the Cambrian line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury. Since this started in 2015 we’ve seen an increase in passenger numbers of an astonishing 41%. 

All this shows that if you provide quality public transport services, and properly market them, people will use them. And that’s what I expect to happen when we get an Aberystwyth - Carmarthen line.

However the thing we’ve become best known for in Ceredigion is our high recycling rate. We’ve achieved this by maintaining a simple collection system that people like and by educating and encouraging our residents to recycle rather than penalising them if they get it wrong. And the result of this is that we’re the top recycling authority, not only in Wales, but in the whole UK, with 70% of our waste being recycled. 

Early on in the administration we took a decision to invest in renewable energy and energy conservation. And we put together a carbon management plan which had a target of reducing the council’s carbon emissions by 15% within five years. 

We invested in a biomass district heating scheme in Aberystwyth whereby a single boiler using wood chips heats four large buildings. We installed hundreds of photo-voltaic cells on the roofs of our buildings around the county - 200 on one building alone. And we’ve invested in scores of smaller energy conservation measures. And so far, in the fourth year of the five-year carbon management programme, we’ve already exceeded our 15% target and we’re now aiming to go higher. 

This has saved almost 3,000 tons of carbon and, in terms of austerity, it’s on schedule to save £2.7 million pounds worth of tax-payers money - quite a feat for a small authority. That money can now go into maintaining other services that might otherwise have been lost.

There’s no question that much of what I’ve mentioned wouldn’t have happened without Plaid Cymru leading the Council and using our core values to direct council policy. That’s the difference that Plaid Cymru can make, even at the most challenging time that local government in Wales has ever known.

So the message is that despite the appalling austerity cuts that are continuing to come down from Westminster, Plaid Cymru-led councils are still finding ways to deliver exemplary services and progressive initiatives in innovative and imaginative ways. Because, despite everything we’re faced with, we’ve got the vision to take Wales forward. And we can take another big step on May 4th.

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