Some services axed, others saved as Newport council tries to bridge budget gap
A NEWPORT leisure centre will close and funding for a music service will be axed as part of plans to bridge a £7 million gap in the 2013/14 council budget.
But two care homes were given a short-term reprieve and a library will be saved, cabinet members agreed yesterday.
Meanwhile residents can expect a 3.5 per cent council tax rise if the budget proposals are agreed by full council next week. The city council aims to close Hillside Care Home in Gaer by 2015/16 but following meetings with users and their families, members agreed that those currently living there would not be forced to move if they do not want to. New Willows respite care home is also set to close in the next few years but will remain open until alternative provision is available.
The council is currently talking to a registered social landlord about the possibility of creating a purpose-built facility to offer accommodation suitable for people with increasingly complex needs.
Simon Harvey, who set up the action group Save Our Services Newport, which collected a 6,000 names petition against the closure, said the news provided some shortterm relief to families.
Sheila Parsons, whose daughter Katherine Morgan, 38, attends New Willows, added: “We feel now that we are in some sort of dialogue with them in an improved situation but we still feel there’s a long way to go. But at least we feel they are prepared to listen to the needs of the young people and their families.”
Underwood Leisure Centre will shut due to its poor condition and under use, but members agreed to develop activities for youngsters at other buildings in the village.
Cllr Martyn Kellaway, who represents the Underwood ward, said the decision was disappointing. He said closing the centre would still cost the council £30,000 a year in rates and security and residents have instead submitted a business case with plans to make it self-sufficient.
This includes setting up a trust run by 36 volunteers and reopening the bar to make money. He said the council is yet to respond but locals would continue to lobby members.
Councillors also ploughed ahead with plans to withdraw funding to Gwent Music Support Service.
Instead schools will be expected to find money from their own budgets to continue sessions, while the council will create a £15,000 hardship fund to provide financial support for those who cannot afford fees.
The under-threat Maindee Library was saved after members agreed it could stay open, but under reduced opening hours of 36 per week.
The council will also look to use the building for more community-based activities.
Jan Townsend said she was thrilled by the news: “Hallelujah! I’m absolutely delighted. It’s wonderful news, I am so glad.”
The money to continue such services will be paid for with £195,000 from the council’s administration priority budget and a proposed council tax increase.
Council tax bills to increase
COUNCIL tax in Newport is set to rise by 3.5 per cent.
This will see band D taxpayers’ yearly fees rise from £825.98 to £854.89 – up by £28.91 or around 56 pence a week.
Newport residents already pay one of the lowest council taxes in Wales and the whole of the UK.
Cllr Bob Bright, said: “Cabinet has provisionally agreed a rise in council tax for residents. We have to balance the need to make savings with maintaining services and protecting jobs, while at the same time acknowledging that residents are also dealing with the impact of the financial crisis.”
ARGUS COMMENT: Praise for listening
THIS newspaper has criticised Newport City Council’s political leadership for creating a perception it is remote and unwilling to engage.
So it is good to report the council’s consultation on its proposed budget cuts was genuine and we praise the leadership for listening to those people worst affected by its plans. As we have said before, all councils have to make tough decisions and take money away from services they would rather keep running. But at least Newport has shown it is willing to listen to residents and change its plans if it can.
Keeping Maindee Library open, agreeing the current residents of threatened care homes will not have to move if they do not wish to, and providing a hardship fund for school pupils who cannot afford to use the Gwent Music Support Service are all welcome moves.
The vast majority of proposed cuts are still taking place, of course, but at least the bitter pill has been sweetened a little for some people.
The 2013/14 budget year is likely to be the start of several years of financial hardship for councils like Newport.
They will have to make increasingly unpopular decisions as central government’s austerity measures bite hard. We will undoubtedly disagree with some decisions.
But if councils listen to and engage with residents, as Newport has done in this consultation, then there may be some good news to be found amid the bad.