Friday, 25 October 2013

Budget Cuts - a hammer blow to the local economy


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


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

I hope they've received expensive advice from the best lawyers on "Transport to secondary schools, £50 administration charge" and "Denominational schools to lose free transport". The law is explicit: if a child is entitled to school transport, it must be free - really free, and a £50 fee isn't free. Children in receipt of free school meals or maximum working tax credit can also get transport up to 15 miles based on religion or belief (i.e. to a denominational school, or NOT if the parents are atheists or non-conformists or something).

"Charging for disabled parking in car parks" will just encourage Blue Badge holders to park on yellow lines instead. And "Charge all council staff for workplace parking £10 per month.....£190,000" will send the staff of County Hall on fruitless hunts for on-street parking. Joy.

The Works Department looks like it's going to face massive redundancies, though. Maybe the local squirearchy will have to raise work parties to fill the roads.

m1books said...

Well Carmarthesnhire News can be axed completely.
Perhaps the new street lamps in Hermon could not have any bulbs put in them - that would reduce street lighting a bit
And who is going to enforce all the after 6pm parking? More wardens or longer hours = increased cost, or am I missing something here...
The rest are mostly a disgrace with as usual the very young, schools and young people, the elderly and unwell being the main targets. As a school governor I am incensed about transport cuts and charges. The UN Convention states Education is a right and it should be free. Some sixth forms may be seriously disadvantaged as alternatives choices such as free transport to colleges may be chosen instead.

Anonymous said...

Assuming that these proposed cuts, or something like them, will have to be made it is obvious that with the current political climate in the county they are all going to be contentious.

Surely at a time like this it would be better for all concerned to have proper political agreement after thorough discussion between all political groups. I cant for the life of me see how the biggest group on the council can be excluded from this decision making.

Politically it would make sense to include them in a grand coalition so that the "fall out" can be shared amongst all parties.

At such a time,all leaders have to wake up and smell the coffee - no more bickering about filming council meetings and committees. Filming is in now and to do away with it at this time would be seen as shady and dishonest.People would think the council had something to hide.

Anybody who stands for public office should be capable of public speaking and if you cant you should not be on the council. If you don't want to be filmed don't speak. If you cant speak - get off the council.

At the moment we are in the bloody ridiculous situation of a supposed labour leader defending a tax deal for one of the highest paid people in the county. In addition, the tax payer is funding a libel case for the CE who should not have been so flipping daft as to responded in a blog anyway ! He didn't have to and nobody would have heard of Jacqui Thomson if he just ignored her.

These things have to be sorted super quick before the cuts bite- people will not understand why they arte losing services when these things are still going on.


Anonymous said...

Just a correction Cneifwr .your usual accuracy letting you down or did you not accurately check Jacqui T blog
Close St Paul Llanelli - an old under occupied small care home & save £900k . Close either Tegfan Ammanford or Glanmarlais Llandybie - just 4 miles apart and save £800k

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks Anon @17.27 Obviously I was not at the seminar, and the information I received was as shown above.

I am confident that the breakdown was noted as accurately as possible under the circumstances.

Interestingly I heard today that the council will not be publishing any details for another couple of months.

Anonymous said...

Once again, the staff at county hall do their best to safeguard their own positions and everyone else has to take the maximum hit - especially the elderly, infirm and disabled.
If our hugely expensive and poor value for money chief executive were to disappear (one lives in hopes!)little difference would be noticed by "the man in the street" and his "work" could be carried out just as well by one of the deputies (get rid of the others?) - ditto heads of other departments, especially planning!.
Will it ghappebn? Of course not - they have all rendered themselves "fireproof" and many of our councillors are too supine to do anything (or are too stupid to realise what has/is happening).
If the councillors really had the interests of the population at heart, they would willingly take cuts (30%?) in theor allowances and expenses - but no hope of that - most are in it for maximum personal profit!

Anonymous said...

"Services for people with learning disabilities will be cut or outsourced" - if the meeting I attended in Theatr y Ffwrnes last Monday a.m. Is anything to go by this has already happened, with dubious dealings involving various 'outside' private bodies', all being co-ordinated by a self-congratulating agency called 'Coastal', funded by European funds, being firmly in charge of this provision. Their presentation, which included no fewer than three promo films, should raise concerns.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @00.54 - here is a link to Coastal's website. It's led by Swansea City Council and uses European funding.

Anonymous said...

The "self-congratulating agency called Coastal" has attracted over 22 million of WEFO funding which has been match funded by more than 16 million of the LA's mainstream budgets!

ƒAccording to the list of cuts, CCC have suggested transferring Coleshill (costing 2 million jointly funded through Carmarthenshire County Council's capital grant programme,the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)and Coastal)to a "social enterprise ..." What on earth is going on here as 'Coastal' is a social enterprise!!!!!!!!!!!

Cneifiwr said...

This is by no means the first time Coastal has come up on the radar. The newsletter says that 89% of its clients have "had a positive outcome", although it does not spell out what that means. I wonder. Paid employment?

Anonymous said...

Good at massaging figures, aren't they? "...less than 3% progressing into qualifications, further learning or employment..."

Cneifiwr said...

I feel a blogpost coming on. If anyone has any firsthand experience of dealing with Coastal, please get in touch through the e-mail address on this blog.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

The Journal publishes the list of "proposals" for cuts today in a 2-page spread which consists entirely of copy from the Council PR Department: abso-bloody-lutely no journalistic involvement at all. What was the point in sending journos to the Ffwrnes fiasco if they don't write it up as a story? If they don't do some investigating? If they don't plod the streets to talk to the poor moppets who are going to be canned by these "proposals"?