£600,000 vanity project or opening democracy to more?
A REVAMP of Swansea Council's debating chamber has been branded a vanity project — but also a chance to ensure good governance of the city.
Swansea Council is planning to spend £600,000 on the chamber where councillors meet for discussion, in a project which would double the size of the public gallery, from 30 to 73 seats, improve wheelchair access, install an electronic voting system and improve the sound and lighting systems, as well as pave the way for the future live streaming of meetings on the internet.
The work will come from the council's capital budget, and not its revenue budget, but some independent councillors say the outlay is inappropriate at a time when the authority is feeling the financial pinch, and face more funding cuts in the years to come.
Council leader David Phillips defended the investment during a heated exchange at this week's full council meeting.
Independent councillor for Penllergaer Wendy Fitzgerald asked: "Why we are spending this amount of money on this project at this time?
"We are making staff redundant, cutting services and told we have to work smarter, but somehow it seems we can spend money on upgrading this chamber.
"Is it reasonable when we are facing a budget shortfall next year?"
David Phillips replied: "We are committed to democratic openness and transparency.
"It is an opportunity to invest in the future good governance of the city.
"It will allow people to view council meetings from their own homes at a time which suits them and not us."