The Council is back into the regular cycle of meetings following May’s local elections. Scrutiny will be meeting next week, with the Overview & Scrutiny Committee holding its first meeting. Scrutiny plays a vital role in the decision making processes of the Council and, over the last three years, I have sought to ensure that Scrutiny is given the opportunity to effectively act as critical friend for the Council corporately.
While the focus often lands on myself and the Cabinet when the Council takes a decision, all Members have a role to play in this process and no more so than when it comes to setting a budget. Each and every one of us has a responsibility, for example, to ensure that that Council sets a balanced and legal budget. The cycle of business dictates that as we approach the autumn announcement of the Local Government Settlement, which is set by the Welsh Government and accounts for around 80% of our Budget, our minds naturally turn to the future financial year ahead. There is much talk nationally in the press about the future of austerity, but it is clearly evident from the discussions I have been a part of within the Welsh Local Government Association that we all anticipate significant reductions in funding by the UK Government to remain one of the biggest challenges over the course of the five year Council term we have just embarked upon.
As I have sought to do in previous years, later in July, Cabinet will receive a detailed appraisal of the potential budget settlement we anticipate and the modelling Officers have undertaken to predict its financial impact for Rhondda Cynon Taf. As the delivery of a balanced budget is a responsibility for each and every Member of the Council, an invitation has been extended to all Councillors to attend this Cabinet and to make a contribution to the process that the Council will take to develop a budget strategy and deliver a legal budget within our statutory deadlines. As has also been the case in previous years, once the process gets underway, the Council will seek to engage residents through as many channels and face to face opportunities as possible and I am keen to develop upon this over the coming months.
As we have in the past when faced with significant reductions to our funding, we will continue to need to exercise the same levels of financial responsibility to effectively manage our resources. However, it is also important that we seek to pursue the opportunities still available to invest in our communities throughout the County Borough.
The Council’s strong financial management does not just mean that the Council can take forward projects such as Taff Vale or the Mountain Ash Cross Valley Link; it also ensures that the Council can respond to unforeseen events, such as the Landslip on the Maerdy Mountain. Over the quieter traffic periods in the July and August, the Council will be investing over £1.7M to future proof this major link between the Cynon and Rhondda Valleys. The Council fully appreciates the inconvenience this will cause to local residents and businesses and that is why we have chosen to undertake these vital works over the summer school holidays when traffic is lighter. At the other end of the County Borough, the major improvements which have been under construction on the A4119 at Talbot Green over the last twelve months will shortly be completed and will deliver improvements for the wider highway network across the south of the County. As a Council we remain committed to prioritising highway and transport infrastructure and supporting our wider aspirations for economic regeneration in Rhondda Cynon Taf. The City Deal will also play a game changing role in this respect and I was therefore delighted, at the first meeting of the Regional Cabinet last week, to be once again appointed as the Chair.