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
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.
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.