The reason for the radio silence in the media on the budget cuts seminar is now clear. A condition of attendance was that journalists were not allowed to take notes, but they were encouraged to participate in the discussions about where to wield the axe.
This runs completely counter to some of the most fundamental rules of journalistic ethics. Journalists are supposed to be objective observers, not participants, for a start. Several organisations which were invited decided to decline precisely because they were concerned that the set-up would compromise their integrity and leave them with very little to report at the end of it.
Needless to say, the council's favourite newspapers had no such qualms.
Set out below is a list of the cuts to council spending which the dream team of Mark James, Kevin Madge (Labour), Pam Palmer (Independent) and the rest are proposing. It is not complete, and the expected savings are missing for several important items. A full and more detailed breakdown should soon be available, but what we can already see is a litany of vindictive, warped and mean-spirited proposals which are typical of what we have come to expect from the powers that be in Carmarthenshire County Council.
Noticeably absent from the proposals was anything resembling belt tightening or pain for County Hall's fat cats. Jobs will be lost, but only at the bottom of the pecking order. The only specific post identified for the chop was for a development officer working on after school clubs (£33,000).
In true Carmarthenshire style, participants were not invited to submit their own ideas for cost cutting
The council's bloated press and PR outfit will carry on as before, but may have to sacrifice two of the six editions of Carmarthenshire News
it churns out every year.
Other holy cows will also survive unscathed. The Scarlets has just benefited from yet another bailout, and departmental budgets will go on being plundered to ensure that hidden subsidies can continue by arranging conferences, meetings and other events in Parc y Scarlets, even though the council has no shortage of venues which could be used free.
Within County Hall, the council executive would like to reduce spending on scrutiny by elected councillors of their decisions, and there are also proposals to cut back on support services which enable our councillors to perform their jobs.
Although the media were invited to the event and some took part, almost no details apart from extracts from Kevin Madge's opening address have so far been published. Was there a gagging clause for those taking part?
It has also emerged that Mark Evans of Unison was asked to leave by the chief executive because it was felt that his presence might unnerve the councillors when it came to voting for job cuts and the wholesale transfer of low-paid council staff to private sector outsourcers.
In addition to some councillors and selected media organisations, the council also invited what it termed local businesses. There is a strong suspicion that some of the businesses taking part are already on "preferred partner" shortlists. That might explain the participation of a local catering wholesaler, because one of the proposals is to outsource school catering.
The economic recovery we hear about on the news has barely made itself felt in Wales, and in the West it is doubtful whether the recovery has even started. The budget cuts will come as a hammer blow to any hopes that we may be about to turn a corner. Families can expect to see council tax rising faster and significant new demands made on their modest incomes. You can expect to have to pay more for what is left of public transport; if your children have to travel to school by bus, you may have to fork out £50 a head for a new "administrative" charge for any child who goes to secondary school. If they stay on after 16, you can expect to have to find hundreds of pounds a year to pay for their school transport. You can also be expect to pay a lot more for your children's school dinners.
Your children can also expect to be told that their schools will no longer use the leisure centres which often sit on the same site.
If you are presented with a bill for school transport and feel that you have been unfairly treated, the council wants to remove your right to appeal to councillors.
If you own a car, you can expect car parking charges to rise even faster than the inflation-busting increases already planned. You will also find that you have to pay for parking in the evenings. If you are disabled, you will have to start to pay to park. If you work for the council, you will have to pay £10 a month to park outside council offices, regardless of whether you are on the minimum wage or a six figure salary.
Although the council provided figures for the savings associated with each proposal (some of them no doubt highly questionable), it does not appear to have worked out what the cost to ordinary families or the local economy will be.
What is clear is that a combination of higher council tax, charges for school transport, rises in charges for services such as school dinners, increased car parking charges, etc. will mean that many families will be hundreds of pounds a year worse off.
If you are a dinner lady or work in adult care, you face losing your job or being outsourced to the tender mercies of a private sector agency. Day care centres for the elderly will be closed or rationalised. Home
care staff will be transferred to external outsourcers.
There has been a lot in the news recently about what can happen in private sector care homes, and the 15 minute care visits which have become a feature of the "care" provided to so many elderly people living at home in England.
Well, it looks as though that is what we can look forward to in Carmarthenshire as well.
There will be major cutbacks in statementing and services for people with complex needs
Services for people with learning disabilities will be cut or outsourced.
Readers of the blogs may remember that the only defeat the council executive has had to swallow in recent years was when councillors rebelled and voted against closure of two care homes in Llanelli. The council has never forgotten or forgiven, and it is now proposing to close three care homes.
Despite the disastrous census results and the council's claims about what it is doing for the Welsh language, it would like to cut what is left of its support for the Mentrau Iaith which play an important role in promoting social cohesion as well as the language.
Huge cutbacks are planned for highways maintenance, bridge and culvert maintenance, street lighting, flood defences and remedial earthworks.
Considering how fond Carmarthenshire County Council is of building on flood plains, these cutbacks are a recipe for trouble.
Oh, and if you are elderly and live in a remote rural area, you can wave goodbye to the council's mobile library service.
The projected council tax rises for the next three years are 4%, 4% and
3% with £1m being taken from reserves next year. With areas such as
education and loan repayments fixed, an overall cut of 19% will be
called on across other departments.
Public transport support – removal of discounts.....£11,000
Reduce rural bus subsidies.....£100,000
Remove subsidies to paid-for school transport.....£85,000
Stop councillor led school transport appeal committee.....£30,000
Cut all over 16 school/college transport (6th Form)
Transport to secondary schools, £50 administration charge
Denominational schools to lose free transport
Increase fees for closing roads for utility work
Off street car parking – 20p increase everywhere....£105,000
Charging for disabled parking in car parks
Car park charging after 6.00pm
On street enforcement of evening parking 6-9pm....£16,000
Charge all council staff for workplace parking £10 per month.....£190,000
Nant y Ci park and ride , double fees to £2......£63,000
To stop paying school crossing patrols [schools to pay or service lost]
Cut business support functions.......£85,000
Cut trade union facilitation time with no full time posts supported
Cut Welsh language support, mainly Mentrau Iaith........£60,000
Catering services in schools – Outsource or cut staff
Reduce subsidies and/or increase prices
Democratic process – Reduce scrutiny, especially of Executive Board
Sustainable development , reduce budget.......£15,000
Community Safety - remove action group......£15,000
CCTV - reduce monitoring......£30,000
Communications – reduce Carmarthenshire News to quarterly
Reduce inclusion services and statementing.......£300,000
Cut part-time places at school for 3 yr olds.......£80,000
Reduce youth services for 11-25 yr olds especially part-time staff
Cut development officer for after school clubs.....£33,000
Reduce out of county placements for complex needs clients.......£250,000
Cut mobile libraries......£141,000
Cut leisure centre use by schools......£525,000
Reduce Trading Standards........£24,000
Cut welfare rights support........£97,000
Close St Paul's care home, also Glan Morlais and Tegfan.......£1,700,000
Some savings to be made through ”provision of extra care”
Local Authority homecare – explore option of transferring all LA staff
to private sector or “arms length” company
Day centres for elderly, to close a third through 'rationalisation'
Coleshill -transfer to social enterprise or Local Authority trading company.......£100,000
Learning disabilities – services at Caemaen, Carmarthen,Ammanford and Maes Lliedi
privatised or to use third sector...........£178,000
Social services – to charge for all non residential services
Highway maintenance – large reduction........£3,236,000
Highways lighting – reduce service levels...........£606,000
Flood defences and land drainage – reduce service........£123,000
Bridge and culvert maintenance – reduce service
(current backlog is £12,000,000 worth of work already)............£267,000
Remedial earthworks cutback...........£750,000
Stop some technical services e.g. scrim tests........£82,000
Reduce environmental enforcement a small amount eg dog fouling......£19,000