South West Wales

Swansea Bay city deal: 'Concerns' raised over progress

The city deal covers Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire
Image caption The city deal covers Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire

A Swansea Bay city deal partner has raised concerns over how the £1.3bn scheme designed to help businesses in the area thrive is progressing and the "substantial" risks involved.

Neath Port Talbot council's cabinet has been warned against signing up to the joint committee overseeing the project.

The report to the cabinet said resolution over a number of issues was needed and it raised financial concern.

But the city deal group said it was on track with delivering projects.

The cabinet discussed the report on Wednesday.

City deals are created to give local areas specific powers and freedoms to help support economic growth, create jobs or invest in local projects.

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Media captionNPT council leader Rob Jones says the deal is not fit for purpose but Swansea's leader Rob Stewart feels confident

The Swansea Bay city deal, which was signed in March and involves 11 projects, is expected to deliver 10,000 jobs across Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire over 15 years.

The four local authorities are behind the city deal along with the two health boards and universities in the region.

Funding is coming from the UK and Welsh governments, public and private sector investments.

One of the council's key concerns is the lack of a joint working agreement (JWA) outlining how the scheme will be governed.

The report said: "At its most basic level, if members were to ask for a simple explanation of how it all would work in practice, officers could not provide a clear one as things stand."

Image caption A steel science centre and centre of excellence in next generation services is earmarked for Port Talbot

It added recently it had "effectively been decided to start again on the JWA".

But it also said a "number of key financial issues" remained unresolved over the delivery of the projects.

One example was the "uncertainty" over the £600m Arch health project which the report said wanted £100m from the city deal but is not one of the 11 projects.

The report ruled out councils plugging any funding gaps after the Welsh Government told Arch to look for "alternative sources of funding".

However a spokeswoman for Arch said two of the projects were linked to the city deal and had already secured public funding of £55m, significantly less than the £100m stated in the Neath Port Talbot report.

The other factor with the city deal was a "potentially significant financial pressure" on the council when there were "other priorities" such as schools, infrastructure, and emergencies including the Ystalyfera landslip.

The report gives the cabinet three options.

One is not to favour formally establishing a joint committee before finalising the JWA and another is to withdraw from the scheme but this has not been recommended.

It favours continuing discussions on the project but not as part of a joint committee.

"This provides more time to get the job done properly, it reduces the legal and financial risks if progress can be made and it provides members with the opportunity to consider the advantages and costs of city deal participation set against the competing priorities identified," the report added.

It recommended a final decision on the city deal should be made when the council's 2018-19 budget was discussed.

A spokesman for the Swansea Bay city deal said it was right for council officers to highlight risks, but the ones mentioned were not new and had also been faced by the Cardiff city region group.

He added: "We're in the process of resolving these questions with the Welsh and UK governments, and we're aiming to take detailed reports to our councils to get final approval for projects by the end of the year.

"The delivery of our projects has already started, and they are on track."

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