Bridgend Council: The Good, the Alright and the Ugly

Local elections are often highly unpredictable. People say they’re fought on local issues and I’d agree with that – despite how this election campaign has been fought. I’m going to stick with that at least. It’s nice to be able to focus on Bridgend in some detail for once.

Since 2008, Bridgend Council has been run by Labour, who currently have a plurality of 27 seats.

Here are my own opinions on how the local council has performed over the past four years and what stands out in particular. There are probably many others points that could/should be included too.

I’ll be making my predictions before Thursday as well – taking a leaf out of Y Cneifiwr’s book.

The Excellent

Waste Management & Recycling

If I had to pick one thing that stands out as “excellent” this would be it. There were more than a few teething problems, and in parts of Bridgend it still can’t be utilised fully, but the statistics speak for themselves. A 51% recycling rate in 2010. Both the council and May Gurney should take a bow. Question marks still remain on the destination of the rubbish though and whether it’s actually that “sustainable” in the long run. I hope the incoming administration can keep this up.

Credit needs to go to Cllr. John Spanswick (Lab, Brackla), who oversaw the new scheme, and who’s standing down from Bridgend’s cabinet (if re-elected) due to work commitments. Thank you, John.

The Good

Planning & Local Development Plan

The timetable for the Local Development Plan has slipped, but all in all planning services have been pretty decent the last four years. There haven’t been any major controversies – Llynfi power station and Island Farm aside – and the LDP does seem to have hit the right balance between economic development, sustainability and regeneration. There’s finally a proper masterplan in place for Bridgend town centre, though it remains to be seen if some of the more ambitious schemes can be delivered in the economic climate.
School Modernisation

There have been several major and minor modifications to primary and secondary schools across the borough – carried through from the previous council term – including significant developments such as Archbishop McGrath in Brackla and the new Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen to replace Ynysawdre and Ogmore schools.

However, how much longer are Penyfai going to be waiting for a new primary school? They’ve been waiting since at least 2003, despite “visits from Carwyn Jones and Rhodri Morgan“. It’s been “on the way” since 2007.

Do Labour operate on a different level of space-time to the rest of us?

Bridgend Townscape Heritage Scheme

The destruction of the old Bridgend Town Hall was an act of municipal vandalism. However this Lottery-backed scheme has seen some of the Georgian core of Bridgend town centre slowly restored over the last few years. The developments at Elder Yard and Elder Mews will hopefully add a modern twist to things.

However much it appears that the town centre is “on the up”architecturally, it’s important to remember that many of the businesses are struggling. Bridgend Market is in desperate need for a revamp and although, on the ground, it appears as though there are few shop vacancies, there are still big gaps, with possibly more to come in the future. That doesn’t exclusively apply to Bridgend.

Bridgend Business Forum

This seemed to come out of nowhere, but has grown tremendously in the last few years to over 300 members. It’s great to see Bridgend businesses come together like this and hopefully learn from each other and push their companies forward. A great scheme by all accounts. One to watch.

The Alright

Adult & Community Care

We’ve seen some positive developments here in recent years, for example the new day centre in Waterton and the (by the looks of it) fantastic new extra-care facility in Kenfig Hill. However, the loss of mental health beds in come communities (if not entirely the council’s remit) has been brushed aside flippantly as “scaremongering”. Have residents and patients at Troed-y-Ton and Maesteg Hospital been put under unnecessary stress by these developments?

The new homeless and rehabilitation centres in Bridgend town centre are another, broadly positive, development. There’s logic in locating these as close to the town centre as possible, but are these in danger of creating “ghettos” in the Morfa Ward, which is already a fairly down at heel part of Bridgend as it is?

Leisure Services

Bridgend Council recently contracted out leisure services to Halo Leisure and Greenwich Leisure Limited. Both are not-for-profits but this is, by definition, a privatisation. Labour are describing it, euphemistically, as a “partnership” and are taking credit in their election leaflets for a possible £4m redevelopment of Bridgend Recreation Centre.

All in all I think this is a positive development. The “Rec” is in desperate need of modernisation, and the council have long held ambitions for the creation of a “Life Centre” there. This deal could finally see something happen, and I’ll be monitoring any developments on that front of course.

Both companies have a good track record. But if Labour are willing to take the credit for the good things, they should be prepared to take responsibility for the bad. For example, some of the listed prices do appear to be on the steep side. They’ll be watched like a hawk on this one.

Highways Maintenance

The workers do an efficient job, but there are more than a few “bumpy” parts of Bridgend’s road network. This isn’t so much the council’s fault, more a sign of cutbacks. The harsh weather over the last few years hasn’t helped either.

The issue of street lights being turned off has proven rather contentious in some parts of the county as well. Could some be converted to run on renewable power?

Communities First Partnerships

Hit and miss. Living next to a Communities First area, I’ve seen some of the benefits of this scheme, however it by no means brings areas out of poverty, or solves long-standing issues. It certainly helps people “connect” to one another, but it appears to be nothing more than a stop gap. There should be a full national review of it, and yes, Labour should pull the plug if it’s not actually producing any benefits. I’m not sure if the outcomes warrant the levels of investment seen.

Could Communities First partnerships be spun-out as social enterprises? Perhaps with supervision by housing associations, with more free-reign on what projects they can do. There’s a decent enough base in some of these areas.

The Ugly

School Performance

The way school banding works is rather confusing. If it were weighted more heavily on exam results, Bridgend’s performance will likely have been better. However, only managing to have one secondary school in the top band, and four in the lowest band (including previously “well regarded” schools like Brynteg, Pencoed and Bryntirion) needs an investigation. GCSE results are starting to slip, and remain behind the Welsh average. Sort it out before it gets worse.

The Maesteg Cosi Site

Yes, it’s finally gone at long last. There’ve been obligatory photos in the Gazette of councillors standing, smiling in front of the clearing rubble. Being left the way it was, for so long, was absolutely disgusting – long-standing land ownership issues included. Worthy of a clip around the head for both the council and the landowners methinks.

Porthcawl Regeneration

The economy will have played a part in this, so it’s not entirely the council’s fault. However, I think this must be the first case where Tesco are struggling to build a new supermarket. Calls for improved leisure facilities in the town – usually involving a swimming pool – seem to fall on deaf ears. Never has a regeneration project promised so much, yet (to date) delivered so little.

Last but not least….

Job Evaluation

“….and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council….a Labour council….hiring taxis to scuttle around the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.”

OK, that quote applies more to Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf, but the sentiment is the same.

This unforgivable action is a real low point in Bridgend Council’s history. I’ve made my thoughts clear on this before. I have no time for unions that seem to pick fights to make political points, but the council have badly let down those affected. I can understand the financial pressure the council is under, but their handling of this has been a genuine, jaw-dropping disgrace. To treat their own workers like this. SMH.

Shame on you.