Times are tough in local government and going to get tougher, so with an election now just over a week away, this is a good time to look at some of Carmarthenshire County Council's spending priorities, as set out in the recent budget.
Last year Dennis Warwick, who is standing for the People First group in Trimsaran against Meryl Gravell, produced this leaflet looking at the cost of the council's senior officers. Dennis was previously employed by the council in child care and, he produced the leaflet for Unison.
He estimated that 28 of the council's most senior officers were together costing the council £4.1m a year, and although the council complained about the leaflet, it did not contradict the claims. If anything, some of the figures look a little on the low side, with the chief executive weighing in at "just" £230,000 (basic salary currently £168,000).
Calculating on-costs is notoriously difficult, but to his basic salary we need to add pension and NI contributions, expenses and perks as well as the hefty fees (with associated pension entitlements) received in his capacity as chief returning officer. Not to mention the massive legal bills incurred in his various libel entanglements - costs which will dwarf everything else.
As Caebrwyn has pointed out (here), there was an explosion in both the number of senior and middle managers in the council in the years following the appointment of Mark James as chief executive in 2002, and in the salaries paid to them. For example, the number of officers earning more than £50,000 a year rose from 4 in 2002 to 49 just five years later. Inflation during that period was low, it should be recalled.
Criticism of officers' pay is one of the things guaranteed to make council leader Meryl Gravell very cross indeed. A year ago she lashed out, saying:
I am getting pretty fed up of hearing about how we pay our chief executives too much.
They are worth every penny that we pay them because if we did not
have that quality, Carmarthenshire would not be where it is today.
So, where are we today, Meryl? Well, the budget passed in February makes gloomy reading for just about everyone in Carmarthenshire, with redundancies and cuts pretty much across the board. Except for those at the top, of course. We are most definitely not all in this together.
The chief executive has given the impression that the authority's higher earners will feel the pain of efficiency savings, but a glance at the budget tells a different story.
The council is organised into 6 departments, with the list headed by the chief executive's own. Its responsibilities include "setting the strategic direction of the council", communications and HR. There are lots of other things which most of us would probably not miss a great deal, including "modern records; business efficiency and effectiveness; business planning; organisational consultancy; community planning (different from the putting-up-an-extension kind of planning); internal communications; the press office; information points; corporate strategy and policy; corporate marketing and publications; and corporate consultation".
The department also includes legal matters, which range from libel cases to land searches, and the "Statutory Service" which covers things like registrars of births, deaths and marriages and land registry.
Staff costs in this department are forecast to fall from a fraction under £11m in 2011/12 to £10.4m by 2014/15. This reduction comes from shedding 8 jobs which together produce an annual saving of £213,000. The largest single saving comes form one HR post, which yields a saving of £35,000.
This pattern is repeated across all of the other departments, with all of the jobs being "deleted" coming in the range £15,000 up to £35,000.
In other words, the ratio of Chiefs to Indians is set to rise.
A glance at some other areas of spending also tells us what the priorities are. £440,000 will be cut from the Learning Disability and mental Health Division by "reprovisioning" the service. If you thought that "to provision" something meant putting in supplies and resources, the Carmarthenshire dictionary definition means the opposite.
£487,000 will be saved by removing free school transport from children aged 16+.
£518,000 will come off road resurfacing.
The list goes on and on, and there can be hardly anyone in the county who will not be affected.
But there are some holy cows. "Direct communications", which almost certainly includes that much-loved publication Carmarthenshire News, will see its budget provision rise from £653,000 in 2011/12 to £751,000 in 2014/15. "Business support and consultancy and development" suffer only a very slight dent in their £600,000 a year, while the "Compliments and Complaints" team will see its budget rise from £160,000 to £200,000. Presumably they are expecting lots more compliments.
The appendix which contains all these numbers can be found here, and it neatly categorises everything as "statutory" (i.e. services which the council must provide by law), non-statutory or both. All the communications activities are non-statutory, as are the compliments and consultancy operations.
The Welsh language, on the other hand, is a statutory requirement, and here the budget is set to fall from £254,000 to £204,000, mainly by cutting support to the Mentrau Iaith.
But at least we'll still have our bilingual Carmarthenshire News to look forward to.
By coincidence the South Wales Evening Post published a story on this topic at the same time (here). The article puts a figure of just under £190,000 on Mr James, still the highest in the region, and that excludes fees earned as returning officer.
A spokesman for the county claimed that it had reduced the bill for senior and middle management by more than £1 million over the last two years. It would be interesting to see how that figure is arrived at. Certainly the budget for the next three years does not involve any cuts in numbers of highly paid managers.