This time last year, I was fortunate enough to be elected Leader of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council for the first time.
I made it clear then that I wanted to do business in a different way.
A Council that delivers for its people needs to be open and transparent, embracing challenge not shying away from it and leading change, not reacting to it.
I have sought over the last twelve months to enable all stakeholders in Neath Port Talbot Council to play their part in key decisions.
To that end, I continue to meet regularly with the Leaders of the Opposition Groups to exchange information and to find out their views on different issues. Cabinet Members now bring forward more reports to Council, Scrutiny meetings and other briefings than ever before and I have been working with the Scrutiny Committees Chairs to develop and strengthen that function further.
My Deputy Leader, Councillor Anthony Taylor, and I have placed an important emphasis on getting out and about across the County, visiting local wards and speaking with councillors about local issues as well as visiting many community organisations, businesses and local groups, listening to their priorities and concerns. We have also invested time and energy in deepening relationships with our partner organisations within Neath Port Talbot and with other public and private sector groups in the wider South West Wales region.
Now is the time of year where we set the path ahead for 2018-19.
Over the next few months, this Council will be concentrating on:
• Modernising our Digital Services Strategy
• Piloting a project that will help change the way that the Council can give more involvement to local people when it comes to providing services and support in their own community
• Finalising the Swansea Bay City Deal and implementing it
• Building upon our £127m 21st Century Schools programme, with plans for the second phase to include a brand new school replace Cefn Saeson Comprehensive as well as new builds in Ystalyfera, Pontardawe, Coed Darcy and Neath Abbey,
• Continuing with our focus on regeneration and employment at key sites including Neath Town Centre and the Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone.
• Implementing exciting plans to develop our tourism industry across the County.
• Creating an achievable, realistic Action Plan for our Valley Communities based upon recommendation due shortly to come forward from our Valleys Task and Finish Group.
We have already started to consider the Budget Strategy for 2019-20 where, as previously, we are again expecting to experience the effects of UK Government austerity. Proposals will come forward that focus not only on making extra savings and cuts but also on income generation and how we can invest more innovatively in our communities.
Everyone in the Council will have a busy year ahead.
However, I remain confident that if we work together, share the responsibility placed upon us all by the people of the County Borough and remain focussed on the future, then we can continue to improve the lives of the those that we represent.
Councillor Rob Jones