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Homelessness, setting budget and RAAC among ‘biggest challenges’ faced by Anglesey

Anglesey County Council

AMONG some of the “biggest challenges” faced by Anglesey council over the past year have included homelessness, setting the budget with an initial £14M fund gap  and the impact of RAAC.

The information came as the Isle of Anglesey Council Council Councillor Llinos Medi presented her seventh annual report as its leader.

She also spoke of the authority’s “opportunities”, describing a swathe of successful projects, activities and investment underway between 2023/24.

In March, the council had approved one of its “most challenging budgets” overcoming an initial funding gap of £14 million.

“This was the biggest funding gap I have ever faced as leader and was the result of the cuts made to budgets over the last 11 years,” she said, as she gave her report to a general council meeting on Tuesday, (May 21.)

The council had “tried to reach a balance” between cuts to services, increasing the council tax and using reserves to balance the revenue budget.

“We used additional consequential funding by Welsh Government as well as a better financial situation than expected during 2023/24 to try and alleviate the effect on residents,” she said.

“It’s one of our biggest challenges, setting the budget, it’s never very easy as we only ever face cuts,” she said.

With inflation, rising costs, increasing demands on services and decreases anticipated in Government funding she warned “we don’t foresee that things will get any easier in the years to come”.

Noting the council “understood that people were struggling” she urged anyone facing financial difficulty to find out if they were eligible for council tax reduction scheme help.

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The council’s housing department had also seen “one of the most challenging years ever,” she told the meeting.

“There were so many people presenting themselves as homeless, the housing team had had to adapt and change their ways of working,” she said.

Data from the housing service, shared in her report, showed that 790 households had contacted the council as they were “in danger of becoming homeless”.

“Some 101 households were in emergency or temporary accommodation during one week in March,” the report noted.

But the council had invested £8M to improve its housing stock, including measures to make it more energy efficient.

Apartments had been developed in Beaumaris and 77 empty properties were brought back into use. Four families had also been resettled under the ARAP scheme.

The Anglesey Homebuy Scheme was also “utilising” £390,000 of income generated from the second homes premium to help local residents purchase their first home.

Local authorities had been given powers to charge a Council Tax Premium on second homes or long-term empty properties.

The Council had “made the best possible use” of the premium and funding from Welsh Government, she said.

It had committed nearly £1.5m towards schemes through the council tax premium fund, helping to meet the local housing demand for housing and helping first time buyers.

The Homebuy Scheme “built on this success” providing additional support to residents with equity loans.

The Council Tax Premium had offered ” a unique opportunity to respond to the current housing crisis, “her report stated.

“We aim to support local people so that they can live in good quality affordable homes in their own community,” Cllr Medi said.

“We want to ensure that everyone has the right to call somewhere home.”

“Challenging times” had also been faced by Holyhead Secondary and David Hughes Secondary schools during the RAAC concrete crisis, after changes to legislation.

Hundreds of schools nationwide were forced to partially or fully close after being found to have reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) – at risk of collapsing after 30 years.

Cllr Medi said the council’s services had “worked together and efficiently” to ensure continued provision of education and for the safe re-openings of the schools which had undergone “urgent” repairs.

She thanked heads, staff, pupils, and families for working with the authority “during a very difficult period”.

Communities, internal teams, local businesses and Welsh Government were also thanked for their “support and fast responses”.

Among highlights over the year included the “exciting” development of the new school, Ysgol Corn Hir.

The island had also received an “exceptional” Estyn profile. Sports Wales grants worth £400,000 had helped modernise two multi-purpose fields at Bodedern Secondary School.

The island’s archives had again achieved accreditation, libraries were being used more and visitors to the Oriel Gallery in Llangefni were up.

Social care saw development of three more Cartrefi Clyd units providing a home for up to six “looked after children” and Dementia Actif Môn had been invited across Wales to speak about its work.

The Anglesey Town Centres Improvement Strategy 2023-28 has been developed following a public consultation.

£16m of UK Government SPF funding had been allocated to community projects.

Levelling Up Fund (LUF) work was ongoing to spend the £22.5m investment in Holyhead, transforming the town centre, extending the Ucheldre Arts Centre, developing 9 Stanley Street with Môn CF to encourage business.

Town council work was also “transforming” the kiosks at Newry Beach, to sell food, drink and provide visitor information.

The second phase of the Arfor venture, established with a £1m fund was for initiatives supporting the Welsh language and economy.

Attention had also been given to the council’s work at national events, including the Llŷn and Eifionydd National Eisteddfodd.

Boosting the economy, the Penrhos industrial estate expansion had transformed a former derelict site into a business park.

The council’s biggest project had concerned the freeport at Holyhead which the leader was proud was being led by officers in the authority.

The council had also welcomed Wylfa plans and the council’s executive had also unanimously backed and would continue to call for the third Menai crossing.

Anglesey’s voice was also increasingly being heard on “a local, regional national level,” the leader said.