Protecting the most vulnerable members of society is a key priority for Flintshire Council in 2019, according to its leading figureheads.
The number of referrals the authority received from people who are either homeless or at risk has skyrocketed by almost 40 per cent during the last 12 months to 1,715.
Staff have also been dealing with the impact Universal Credit has had on residents, which has seen the rent arrears it is owed grow to £2 million.
During the summer, the council served thousands of meals through the county’s play schemes in order to prevent children from going hungry.
Leader of the council Aaron Shotton believes the issue of poverty is one which the authority needs to continue to address in the new year despite a difficult financial outlook.
He said: “It was a massive voluntary effort by council staff and other members of the community.
“As well as the meals that were distributed, it generated a real community spirit.
“There’s a real need to address food poverty in the sense of access to nutritious food.
“It’s been a particular hallmark of this administration since 2012 to not only deliver services, but to be a campaigning council that’s got social justice at its heart.
“Looking at what we’ve done over the last year and moving to the next 12 months, things like how we rise to the challenge of a real need out there in terms of housing and food poverty, we need to continue to do that.
“There’s a myth out there that somehow all council staff are well paid and I think there’s an opportunity in the new year to work to try to get to a position of being a Living Wage Foundation employer.”
Cllr Shotton has expressed his disappointment at the final sum of money given to local authorities by the Welsh Government earlier this month.
The council previously warned that a 15 per cent increase could be on the cards for ratepayers as a result, although that figure was revised down to nine per cent following the announcement of some additional funding.
He said senior figures would continue to campaign for improved funding from Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay before they vote on the final budget in January.
However, despite the gloomy outlook, chief executive Colin Everett revealed the authority is preparing to launch a new social enterprise to tackle food poverty.
He said: “I’m hopeful we’ll have something early in the new year which is a new social enterprise model.
“It goes well beyond the play scheme and it’s about supplying food to people who are very vulnerable and at risk of homelessness because perhaps they’re juggling the financial demands of running a house and Universal Credit.
“It’s a really exciting model and we’ve got some serious partners and I’m hopeful it’s something we can launch in February or March next year.
“The scale compared to other areas will be quite big.”
The North Wales Growth Deal is expected to deliver a large economic boost to the region over the coming years and Cllr Shotton believes Flintshire is in a prime position to benefit.
The UK and Welsh governments have announced collective funding of £240m for the regeneration scheme which aims to create 5,500 jobs and bring £671m worth of investment to the area.
He said: “We’ve got a good solid base to work from in terms of the chancellor’s announcement and Ken Skates has matched that in principle but set the challenge for the UK government to increase that.
“Next year we want to get to the heads of terms, which is the next step in terms of solidifying the bid and the delivery.
“The most universal element I think is the digital bid. Flintshire residents will directly benefit from the opportunities that will come from improved digital access.
“Clearly one element is extending employment sites and Warren Hall is specifically mentioned in what we’re trying to achieve in the deal.”
The council is also hoping to see major developments with the £95m Northern Gateway project in Deeside, which appeared to have stalled in recent years.
However, a number of planning applications have been entered during the last 12 months for both the former RAF Sealand base and former Corus steelworks site.
Preparatory work began in October and there is said to have been ‘considerable interest’ from businesses wanting to move onto the land.
The overall scheme in Deeside Enterprise Zone is expected to result in 5,000 new job opportunities, as well as deliver hundreds of new homes.
Mr Everett said: “We mustn’t overlook the Northern Gateway because although it’s outside the growth bid, a considerable amount of investment has been put in by the Welsh Government and the landowners.
“We’re at the point now where all the access works are about to be completed and there are some quite big live enquiries for investment with us and Welsh Government.
“There’s some quite big developments coming together with the growth deal adding value in the middle.”
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).