Wales politics

Vote 2012: How will sport and leisure fair at ballot boxes

Great Britain's men's pursuit cycling team
Image caption Team GB cyclists training at Newport's Velodrome

BBC Wales is looking at local issues in some of the key council battlegrounds ahead of the council elections on 3 May.

If you take a trip to the Newport Velodrome you will find elite athletes training next to keen amateurs, all in a council run facility.

However, this is not something local authorities have to provide and many councils are either closing leisure services or, like Bridgend, shifting centres to a separate public-private partnership.

Leisure is a non-statutory service, so is vulnerable to cuts.

Steve Ward, sport and leisure manager at Newport City Council says it's a tough choice.

"Local authorities are considering commercial operators and trusts to run facilities, it's a decision that councillors and politicians take seriously and is something everyone is looking at now," he said.

About 80% of council funding comes from the Welsh government, the other 20% from council tax.

Overall the 22 local authorities in Wales received a 0.2% increase in funding this year compared to last.

Cardiff received the greatest increase with 1.5%, Monmouthshire the greatest decrease with -1.8%.

However, the body that represents councils here, the Welsh Local Government Association says that if you take inflation into account, overall funding has been cut by 4.3 percent.

'Working together'

But even in these strained economic times councils have to pay for essential services and big ticket items like school improvements, new housing and road maintenance. Borrowing for these kinds of projects has risen by 80% in the last year, to £256m.

To cope with the pressure on budgets, local authorities have had learn to work together.

Torfaen council is now sharing education services with other councils.

The refurbishment of Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, Pontypool's Welsh-medium school, is being funded by several councils that send pupils there, like Newport and Blaenau Gwent.

One of the biggest shared services is the Gwent Frailty Programme, a joint venture between the five councils in the former Gwent area and the Aneurin Bevan Health Board.

It's designed to help elderly people remain in their own homes.

Hugh Coombs, professor of accounting at the University of Glamorgan says models like this could be adopted elsewhere.

"There's talk of a mid Wales social services provision, and recently Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil council's announced they'll be working more closely when it comes to procurement to try to save money," he explained.

"So, because of the pressure on their budgets, councils are looking at different ways to still deliver services."

Each council across Wales delivers around 500 services, many you may not notice until they're gone.

Now with budgets strained, facilities like the Newport Velodrome are becoming a luxury, a dwindling number of councils can afford.

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