"There go my people. I must find out where they are going so that I can lead them." (Alexandre Ledru-Rollin)
Earlier this week Carmarthenshire's county councillors met in a budget cuts seminar in Llanelli. As in previous years, the list of proposals was a long one and included a number of favourites which come up every year, including the closure of one of two respite care homes for disabled children to save £200,000.
The proposal has been the subject of an online petition which attracted nearly 2,000 signatures.
Cllr Siân Caiach intervened in the discussion and proposed a vote to remove the proposal from the list - permanently - and a majority of those present agreed with her.
The vote was not a binding one as the seminar is not a formally constituted council meeting, but Kevin Madge, the Labour leader of the council, has now sensed that he is on a losing wicket and has engaged the services of the press office to try to spin the defeat into an example of how he and the rest of the Executive Board listen to people.
The press office has duly obliged with a piece explaining how Kev will now ask the officers ever so nicely to remove the proposal. He added that his colleagues on the Executive Board had told him they could not support the measure either.
Unfortunately several things are missing from this piece of taxpayer funded "news" reporting:
1. There is no mention of Cllr Caiach's role in getting the proposal taken off the table.
2. Kev forgot to mention that he and the rest of the Executive Board approved the list of cuts handed to them by officers at their meeting on 17 November.
3. There is no mention of the petition.
A run-down of yesterday's meeting of the full council will follow later, but anyone who saw it will have been struck by how much of the meeting was taken up by personal tributes of one kind or another. The budget cuts seminar was not filmed or broadcast, but the uncomfortable truth for councillors is that the public is much more interested in matters such as the closure of respite centres than it is in watching lengthy speeches in praise of council officers and award ceremonies.
Can I just say, after a lot of sometimes heated discussion I did not personally propose the vote. Sensing the mood, and those Councillors who expressed a preference clearly were all united in opposing closing the respite care homes, Director of Education Rob Sully sensibly suggested that we took the issue off the table completely, rather than return to it year after year. This was his proposal and what we voted on.
The only argument for the closures from the officers was that no other welsh local authority had similar provision and that it is not a statutory duty to provide care in this specific fashion.
Doubtless the petition and the lobbying of service users had a significant effect, at least on some of the Councillors and the Director concerned.
This council is still officer led as regards the cuts, they propose them all, as far as I can see. In theory deciding what to cut is a decision for Councillors, and at the end of these budget meetings we are asked for "any other ideas" but that's only a sop to a pretense of Councillor participation. Without being given a proper overview of the whole council finances it is impossible to really participate in true choice. We need to change the way budgets are set.
These unaccountable workshops, seminars, working parties and the like should be banned. If it can't be done in public it shouldn't be done in private. This is where all the devious stuff takes place - behind the closed doors that most officers and many councillors prefer.
And ALL councillors, irrespective of rank, should be paid the living wage and no more so that they are not encouraged to stay in power for the money and the perks.
Just a glance at the Council's budget reveals substantial sums paid out for what I regard as "non-essential" services, such as £4m on "People Management and Performance" (YES - FOUR MILLION QUID!), £180K on press communication, £0.58m on tourism marketing, £50K on visitor information, etc, etc.
I query whether much of the "regeneration" budget offers value for money, and whether a total freeze on these projects would allow the money to be diverted to better use.
Don't let officers dictate the choices that have to be made - their jobs and areas of interest will come first. And cut senior management pay while you're at it - the market for town hall geniuses must be shrinking rapidly at a time of mergers and cuts, so you can justly respond to the " market forces" that resulted in inordinate inflation of senior pay in the first place.
Post a Comment