Key challenges to address
Outcomes for learners in Torfaen need to improve across all of the council’s schools. As the council responds to the Estyn inspection, it is developing robust self-evaluation systems to ensure better planning and focus on key areas of work, supported by the Education Achievement Service (EAS). This will support every school improve the quality of their leadership and their teaching to get better outcomes for every learner.
A new Curriculum for Wales will also be introduced in all primary and some secondary schools from September 2022. Moving away from a prescribed National Curriculum, schools will move to a broad framework within which they can design their own school curriculum. This is one of the biggest changes in education for a generation.
The council must respond to the rising number of learners with complex Additional Learning Needs (ALN). Over the last five years there has been a steady increase in the numbers of learners with multiple and complex needs. An expanding Crownbridge school will continue to work with schools to understand and plan how the needs of learners with ALN are best met in mainstream, specialist resource bases and within Crownbridge over the next five years.
As part of the national ambition to see one million Welsh speakers by 2050 the county faces some significant challenges to develop Welsh speakers in an area where currently the numbers of Welsh speakers are low and the council faces some real challenges in recruiting staff to its education settings.
The council’s plan outlines how it will be creating additional Early Years Childcare provision, extending the opportunities for Welsh Language education and how it will create “immersion” opportunities for learners to join a Welsh Medium school later in their educational journey and improve the quality of our Welsh Medium schools.
The needs of the curriculum and learners has transformed over the last 40 years and continues to evolve. Most of the council’s school buildings were designed for a pre internet age when teaching methods were largely focused on whole class teaching. The demands of the modern curriculum and teaching methods means that many teachers have to find ways to overcome the shortcomings in the design of school buildings. The council’s 21st Century schools programme has seen it create a significant number of new schools and refurbishment of schools to address this and there is still much more to deliver.
There are a range of challenges that span across social care services that relate to overall demand on services and the consequent expectation of statutory services to meet this level of demand. From this challenge there is a continued need to focus on the development and delivery of services that are aimed at preventing escalation into and through services.
There is an ongoing focus on safely reducing demand for Children and Families Social Care by recognising and developing community, family and individual strengths. In reducing the level of demand on the service the council can shift and target more resource to develop and expand a local offer and ensure that services are more effectively and efficiently targeted to those who require statutory services.
Adult Social Care is in high demand, particularly as a result of the covid pandemic and the knock-on impact within health and social care. The council’s work impresses on the importance of information, advice and assistance and suitable signposting so that residents do not get drawn into a system and service when, with the assistance of alternative non-statutory support, they can maintain independence and live the life they want.
In order to address the challenges, the council recognises that Early Intervention and Prevention provision need to expand and a community offer is developed that enables a greater level of community resolution. This will enable the council to channel its resources and statutory services to meet the needs of those in most need of support.
Affordable, good quality housing is in high demand not just in Torfaen but also across Wales and the United Kingdom. House purchase prices and rents are at an all-time high, which is impacting on availability and affordability to the general public to access,particularly during a cost-of-living crisis.
This is also impacting on homelessness as households are unable to access affordable housing. The council is working with partners to respond, not just in terms of preventing homelessness, but also with registered social landlords to bring existing and new housing into use as quickly as possible.
Resident’s pride and confidence in their county is often informed through how they perceive and rate their local environment. Where they live, where they work and where they go for recreation, leisure and shopping.
The council wants its towns, streets and our natural environment to be beautiful,attractive, clean and sustainable. Far too often the tremendous pride in local communities is harmed by the minority. While not significantly different to surrounding areas, there is too much litter, too much fly-tipping and the council wants to work in partnership with communities to stamp out this behaviour for the benefit of all.
Maintaining and investing in green spaces, roads and pavements to encourage active travel and community use, and improve connectivity between residents and communities, as well as helping people access leisure facilities and job opportunities,are fundamental to achieving the aims of this plan.
Working with communities and also with national programmes, the council must act as a community leader to facilitate a whole system transition to net zero carbon to ensure the environment and the well-being of future generations are protected.
Increasing recycling and composting rates is one way all residents can live more sustainably. All local authorities in Wales are required to reach a 70% recycling and composting target by 2024/25, which forms a key part of the Welsh Government’s‘Towards Zero Waste' strategy. This represents a significant challenge for Torfaen Council and one that will need working closely with communities to achieve this milestone.
The success and prosperity of the local economy is essential to deliver much of what is in the County Plan. There is a proven link between better economic outcomes to individuals’ health, community well-being, and confidence in young people to aspire and succeed, whatever their ambition maybe. The Torfaen economy cannot act in isolation. It is part of a much bigger, regional, national and international jigsaw but the programmes delivered by the council and the relationships it forms can facilitate and encourage growth.
The Torfaen economy is diverse with both strengths from which we can draw and challenges we want to overcome. The council wants to capitalise on the strength of the highly skilled workforce primarily based around advanced manufacturing to diversify the sectors into which advanced manufacturing can grow with a particular focus on the life sciences sector.
The council wants to build on national and regional programmes that focus on promoting innovation, building local entrepreneurship and confidence to access new markets and take opportunities to build a dynamic, active and research led economy.
With the creation of Place Plans for all town centres, the council wants to rewrite their purpose. To halt decline, build ambition and hope, the council wants to inspire confidence in its town centres, with innovative investment, bold ambitions for regeneration and public spaces that attract residents, businesses and visitors to help keep the pound circulating in the local economy.
The County Plan seeks to harness the role that communities already play in delivering information, advice, guidance and help focus early intervention and prevention resources more effectively. To achieve this means redesigning services around the how customers live their lives and use council services.
One of the council’s main responsibilities is to equip communities with the skills and resources so that they can become more resilient to the challenges that they face in a rapidly changing world. The council wants to support and empower communities so that responses to these threats are designed together in a way that puts the customer first and reflects the uniqueness of each area. In short, the council want to develop a ‘Communities Approach’ to public service.
Communities are at the heart of all 9 of its well-being objectives. Co-designing and co-delivering services with communities is vital to raise aspirations amongst young people; reduce inequalities; support healthy lifestyles; and respond to the climate and nature emergencies. To do this clarity is needed on how, when and from whom our residents can access information, advice, guidance and support. The council wants to create a ‘shared front door’ with communities and local partners which directs people to the right level of help, at the right time and from the right source, so that support will be delivered consistently and to the highest quality.
There are, of course, challenges in developing a Communities Approach to public service. Each area is different with its own set of service needs and its own community offer. Currently not enough residents feel that they can shape or influence the service offer in their local area, and we need to improve the coordination of volunteers across the borough.
Culture & Heritage
The wider challenges for the council are set out under the themes of wellbeing, connectivity and sustainability which are set in the context of its financial challenges. The theme of culture and heritage contributes to tackling challenges in each of these areas and on all fronts.
Access to heritage and culture widens horizons, enriches lives, and engenders a sense of pride and belonging. By capitalising on the strengths of individuals, communities and the collective assets within Torfaen, the county can be safer, healthier and more independent with a vibrant economy.
Torfaen’s culture and heritage is a reflection of its collective experience, endeavour and achievement over centuries. The county needs to celebrate its history and its place in the world as well as collectively recognising who we are, what we stand for and where we belong.
The lives of our county ancestors, its historic and newly forming communities and the assets within the county form the backdrop to all future hopes and aspirations.Respecting the county’s past helps to understand the county’s present and can inform every one of our futures. By working together, the county can celebrate its diversity and build a cohesive identity that everyone can be proud of.
The financial outlook facing the public sector and local authorities across Wales is extremely challenging and provides the context to the County Plan as the council focuses on what services matter most and what resources are required to deliver them.
The council’s Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) published in March 2022 detailed a financial challenge of £16.2million over four years. The financial forecast for just 2023/24 now indicates a financial challenge of £12.5million. This scale of the challenge, and the speed at which it has arisen is quite unprecedented, and is being driven mainly through high inflation, particularly, the cost of energy and significant pay inflation. Additionally, there is a cost of living crisis and demand for many of our high cost services continues to grow, including pressures as the council and communities continue to recover from the pandemic.
While the financial landscape is very challenging, this is not a time to lessen the council’s ambition or resolve to meet these challenges head on. Like all responsible councils, costs will need to be reduced in a sustainable way that protects frontline services as far as possible. To that end, the council will be taking a thematic and cross-cutting approach to reductions rather than applying percentage cuts to all budgets, although there will still be difficult choices and decisions.
Last Modified: 14/02/2023
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