Saturday 22 February 2014

A Good News Budget (II) Updated


A couple of the comments on this post point out that all Welsh councils are facing cuts, and suggest that this blog is being unduly partisan in criticising the Labour-Independent administration in Carmarthen. West Wales News Review provides us with a timely reminder why Carmarthenshire is in a league of its own.


After warning everyone that there would be cuts of biblical proportions, Kevin Madge's PR strategy has switched to talking about areas of council spending which will not be cut. Anyone reading the report put out by the most recent Executive Board meeting might be forgiven for thinking that the council's budget proposals were all about saving care homes and lollipop ladies rather than cutting services.

Here are just some of the cuts voted through by the Labour-Independent coalition on Wednesday. The figures show the anticipated 3-year saving.
  • Cutting back further on highway maintenance (£3.24m)
  • Transferring Home Care Services for the elderly to the private and/or voluntary sectors (£1.5m)
  • Transfer Day Centres for elderly to charities (£700,000)
  • Cut back on street lighting (£606,000)
  • Make schools pay to use leisure centres (£525,000)
  • Increase charges for school meals (£500,000)
  • Cut spending on road sweeping and de-littering (£350,000)
  • Reduce spending on assessing children with special needs (£300,000)
  • Reduction in bridge maintenance work (£267,000)
  • Reducing the number of children going into foster care (£250,000)
  • Increase and extend charges for social care (£200,000)
  • Cut day services for people with learning disabilities (£175,000)
  • Cut community and mobile library provision (£141,000)
  • Introduce charges for Blue Badge holders (£109,000)
  • Increase car parking charges (£105,000)
  • Cut spending on youth services. Carmarthenshire already has the lowest spend in Wales. (£100,000)
  • Reduce bus subsidies (£100,000)
  • Reduce training and employment support for people with learning disabilities (£100,000)
  • Cut spending on Citizens Advice and welfare rights (£97,000)
  • Cut trade union support (£85,000)
  • Reduce road condition surveys (£83,000)
  • Cut spending on Welsh language schemes (£60,000) The total budget is £216,000 over 3 years.
  • Introduce charges for car parking up to 9pm. (£55,000)
  • Reduce opening times for Newcastle Emlyn swimming pool (£35,000)
  • Cutting support for after-school childcare (£33,000)
  • Cut back on CCTV monitoring (£30,000)
  • Abolish the council's school transport appeals panel (£30,000)
  • Reduce Carmarthenshire News from 6 to 4 issues (£20,000)
  • Cut environmental enforcement (dog fouling, abandoned cars, graffiti, etc.) £19,000
In addition to these cuts to frontline services, the budget includes a raft of proposals labelled "managerial and efficiency" savings. These cover a huge range of items and include the deletion of posts - overwhelmingly at lower pay grades.

Winners and Losers

The cuts will hit everyone across the county, but some will be hit harder than others. The decision not to close any care homes in the Ammanford area and the sudden discovery of an unbudgeted £7 million to fund an "Extra Care" facility in Llanelli were highly political gestures, undertaken to shore up Labour's vote in those two areas.

For rural areas there is nothing but pain, and most people in Carmarthenshire live in rural areas. There is already a 7-year backlog on road maintenance, and that will grow worse. Cutting mobile libraries, day care centres, bus subsidies, abolishing the school transport appeals panel and slashing the road maintenance budget will all hit rural communities hard.

The Big Picture

Overall council spending is set to fall slightly over the next three years from £339m in 2013/14 to £332m in 2016/17, although that masks some significant changes when broken down to the level of individual departments. Technical Services (refuse collection, roads, etc.) will see its budget drop from £47m to £43m over the same period. Social Care and Housing will go from £79m in 2014/15 to £71m in 2016/17. Education and Children's Services spending will stay flat at £160-£161m.

The Exception to the Rule

The one exception to this is the Chief Executive's department, which will see its budget grow from £8.3m in 2013/14 to £17.5m in 2016/17.  The Chief Executive's department includes the council's press and PR operations, the legal department, HR and functions such as business planning and "performance improvement". Nowhere in the vast amount of documentation put out by the council is there any clear explanation why this department will be more than doubling its money when everything else is being cut.

The Politics

Several rabbits were pulled out of the hat to stifle dissent in Kevin Madge's Labour group in the run-up to a budget settlement which included an attack on union representation in the council. Not one Labour councillor raised any concerns about this at Wednesday's budget meeting.

In fact very few Labour councillors had anything to say at all, apart from Kevin Madge and other members of his cabinet. The sole exception was Anthony Jones who was given nearly 10 minutes (the 5 minute rule is normally rigorously applied by the chair) at one point to set out his support for the overall settlement.

Anthony Jones has his eye on Kevin Madge's job.

Over on the Independent benches there was complete and total silence, apart from members of the Executive Board. Despite representing rural communities and claiming to be independent-minded, not one of them spoke, and they all voted with Labour to push the package through despite the damage it will inflict on the people they represent.


Anonymous said...

Hope the public remembers this when it comes to voting in the next election!

Anonymous said...

They have found money and rent-free land for a church-initiated bowling alley, a private golf course and a private rugby club but little else.
It seems all 'balls' to me

Anonymous said...

Y Cneifwr reports that the Chief Executives Department is responsible for "performance improvement".

A friend of mine works for the refuse and cleansing department. She told me that the environmental enforcement officers have moved from Carmarthen and have now been centralised in Llanelli.

Will this mean the north of the county, e.g. Newcastle Emlyn and Llanybydder will get less coverage? That doesn't sound like an improvement in performance.

Surely there will be increased travelling times, combined with the higher travelling costs. Where is the logic in that.

With the reduction in picking up litter on the roadside, our countryside will look more and more neglected. How does the chief executive's department expect to attract tourism and inward investment if the environment is covered in litter and refuse?

Improvement in performance? I think very little thought went into many of the cuts. How about instead cutting the huge wage bill for the idle senior officers. From what some of my friends working for the council tell me, if the senior officers would be paid by results, many would be paupers.

How about cutting back on Josephine Goebbels' (Debbie Williams') propaganda department? That could save a fortune.

If there is less road maintenance, there will be more pot holes and and increased potential for more insurance claims from motorosits. How will that be a saving?

I know I've been stating the obvious, but is it obvious to the so called planners?

Anonymous said...

Doubling the money to the chief executives department,
and the ministry of propaganda,tells you everything about the shower that run Carmarthenshire,they sure know where their priorities lay.

Anonymous said...

All I can see, we have got rid of one unnecessary Carmarthenshire council car to pay for another unnecessary even more expensive counsel car. (Mr. Kerr (pronounced Car) Q.C.)

Anonymous said...

The value of trade union facility time:

"Recent reports demonstrate the value of trade union facility time to businesses. Research by NatCen Social Research [The Value of Trade Union Facility Time: Insight, Challenges and Solutions June 2012] established four main benefits arising from the use of facility time:

• Provision of a ready-made structure for meaningful consultation and negotiation saving organisations money and providing reassurance to members that their views are valued in decision-making.

• Facilitation of partnership working with trade unions that improved workplace relations and the reputation of an employer as ‘a good place to work’.

• Earlier intervention in relation to complaints, grievances and disciplinaries preventing escalation into more serious problems; thereby saving organisations and taxpayers’ money by reducing the amount of management time spent on such issues and significant legal costs on Employment Tribunal cases.

• Better communication to manage change during restructuring and redundancy processes; thereby improving understanding of decisions, minimising negative impacts, reducing the number of working days lost through industrial action and saving legal costs on Employment Tribunal cases.

If, as NatCen found, facility time improves the availability of representatives to work with employers on areas of common interest then it is difficult to understand why the government should want to reduce it in the civil service. The research shows that union reps who are able to focus on their trade union duties are better prepared for meetings with management and build relationships of respect and trust with managers over time.
At a time when the government is seeking fundamental reforms within the civil service, including of pay, other terms and conditions and employment related policies and procedures, such relationships are vital. It is not in the interests of the government, taxpayers or civil service employees for facility time agreements to be emasculated at such a critical time, for this will lead to disruption and greater cost in the long term.
Ultimately, it isn’t just union members who benefit from union facility time, it is the entire workforce and the business as a whole which benefits."

johnsouthwales said...

i was looking at accounts yesterday. the old style was readable, and quite informative.. things like if a van was purchased, or mowers.. and how many mowers or vans they lost or if a day centre was closed..
It seemed a bit unusual that they listed purchases but didn't say how much they cost.

up until 2010 that is... i despaired at the new style from 2010. what it doesn't do is illustrate what was purchased or lost.. the figures are there in £'s but the items aren't, so less scrutiny.

under the new system, a new purchase is lumped into vehicle purchases in £'s but doesn't say what they actually purchased.

and most things are basically bundled into a category and clueless what is what.

in 2005, carms had 12 snow ploughs, 6 spreaders, 3 mowers and 1 trailer.. now it is difficult to retrieve that kind of info.

a piece of info i didn't really know about before.
a subsidy - 238k 2013/14.. expected to rise 2014-15 then cut to 208k 2015..pembrey ski slope.

i did notice the increases in the chief execs dept. they've been on the cards for a while

Anonymous said...

You'd have thought, when it comes to the purchase of equipment there would be one department that handles all acquisitions and services. From what contributors on this blog have said, I gather this is not the case.

Surely not having a coordinated approach to purchasing, means there is a higher risk of skulduggery taking place, or at least a lot of waste occurring.

Does the County Council maintain a central inventory of all the assets it holds? How often do they carry out audits of what kit is bought and ensure it is really necessary?

With the calls for amalgamations of local authorities, surely Carmarthenshire County Council's financial gurus should be looking at forming regional consortiums, to get the best value and cheaper prices for kit.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is the Chief Exec.'s department responsible for, and what does it actually do? Is it at all possible to get any specific figures for any of its functions, or is this huge sum of (strapped) taxpayers money just frittered away?

johnsouthwales said...

anon, the accounts are available online from 2004 in ccc website.
i thought to myself from 2010, what a good way to hide something.
they should have a central inventory, even if the sums add up and tally up in the accounts, the items aren't published.

have a look:

for example 2009-10 acounts, page 47 and 48 operational assets.

2010-11 it's become Property,
Plant and Equipment. even though on page 46 it mentions what was spent on various property such as llanelly house. try finding snippets of info that was available in 2009 and prior, and compare the format to 2010+

passerby said...

talking about equipment, receiver has taken away council owned gof course mowers believe it or not.

there's apparently an inventory of what belongs to the council and another one that belongs to the club.

bit late me thinks, most probably they been sold by now.

how come it's taken all this time to realise that? does anyone know what they are doing anymore