Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities
Last September, I updated the Assembly on the progress that the Isle of Anglesey County Council was making under the stewardship of my Commissioners, and my plans for the future.
As part of this, in October I issued the Council with a less stringent direction. My Commissioners reduced their presence in the Council and Councillors resumed day to day control.
Since then the whole Council has continued to progress. Council politics remain stable and mature. Councillors continue to engage effectively with both my Commissioners and Council officers. Councillors have proven that they are perfectly able to manage routine business.
The old damaging Anglesey culture continues to be a distant memory. The fractious politics that once caused major problems has disappeared. I am increasingly confident that this is a sustainable change. My Commissioners share that confidence and believe the Council can become one of the best in Wales. We are all clear that and the old Anglesey is a thing of the past.
The Council appointed its new senior management team during the summer. It is proving vital in bringing stability, capacity and expertise to the Council. The team has developed a comprehensive ‘transformation plan’. That plan sets out the priorities and actions to complete the Council’s full redevelopment by 2016. I am pleased to note that Councillors on all sides have warmly endorsed the plan, and that the authority is already making good progress in delivering the plan. This further demonstrates that the Council collectively is taking ownership of its own long term recovery.
The Council is also moving forward with some important collaborative projects. For instance, the Council’s location makes it ideally placed to co-ordinate action to combat human trafficking, and I have encouraged them to do so. My human trafficking co-ordinator tells me that the Council is working well with other north Wales authorities, the Police and the Home Office to tackle this menace. I am sure the Council four years ago would not have adopted such a mature approach. I will be watching developments in this area with interest.
The Council has also proved it can deliver good services, and has attracted wider recognition for that. Last month, my colleague Huw Lewis congratulated Anglesey for becoming the first local authority in North Wales, and only the second overall, to achieve the Welsh Housing Quality Standard – a great achievement for a council of Anglesey’s size. The Council qualified for their full Outcome Agreement grant for the first time in several years, proving that it can secure real and positive outcomes for local people. The Council has also been shortlisted for the Management Consulting Association’s Change Management Project of the Year award for its recovery programme from serious corporate failure. These are all good indications of how much the Council has improved since I appointed my Commissioners to run the Council in March 2011. They underline the extent to which the Council has turned things around. It is clear the Council is now running effectively and sustainably. Councillors and officers work well together and share a common objective: to achieve a sustainable recovery and a better future for the island.
However, there are still a number of significant challenges that remain, and the Council is fully aware of their responsibilities to properly manage the education services, following the Estyn inspection last year. The Welsh Government has established a Recovery Board to support the council in addressing a range of short-comings in its education service.
In addition, the Council shortly has to make some tough choices in setting its budget and council tax for next year. In that, it is in the same position as local authorities everywhere. The setting of Council Tax is that of the Council not my Commissioners. But I am pleased to learn that the Council’s budget planning process is progressing well, that members are confronting the challenges maturely and honestly, and that officers are providing clear, concise and robust advice. That would not have happened two years ago.
The Council has come a long way over recent months which is a testament to all those involved – Councillors, officers and my Commissioners. This recent progress over the past few months leads me to believe the Council now has the capability and willingness to manage its own affairs and serve local people well. Anyone who continues to belittle the Council or its chances of recovery is not only ignorant of the facts. They are undermining a great deal of hard and dedicated work to improve things – work which is genuinely starting to succeed.
If this continues then I will be delighted to end my intervention altogether at the end of May. However, before I can do that I will need to be convinced that there is no going back. The Council will need to continue to demonstrate that they can ensure: a sustainable recovery; continuing improvement; and a stable and effective administration following their election.
That makes this phase of the intervention particularly critical. My decision has to be based on the clearest possible evidence - the Council has overcome its problems and is capable of sustaining itself. My Commissioners, officials and I will therefore be monitoring progress particularly closely in the coming months.
I will make a further statement to the Assembly in due course.