BEATING THE BUDGET BLUES:

08/01/2014

8 Jan 2014

The Labour-Independent regime which runs Carmarthenshire County Council intends balancing its budget by making savage cuts and raising charges for public services.  Plaid Cymru say that the necessary savings can be made without cutting services, raising charges or compulsory redundancy.

 

As the largest group in County Hall, with 28 councillors, Plaid offered to formally join the administration so that all parties could work together to deal with the present financial crisis. The offer was turned down by the Labour and Independent groups. The Executive Board also refused to discuss Plaid’s alternative budget proposals unless officers were present.

 

“As Plaid Cymru has no part in the decision-making process, the public should know that all service cuts and increased public charges will be implemented by Labour and Independent councillors,” said Plaid group leader Cllr. Peter Hughes Griffiths. As a responsible opposition, we’ve been working hard on drawing up a number of alternative budgetary proposals. As it is not part of the administration, Plaid is having to do this “from the outside” with limited access to council accounts. Despite the Executive Board refusing to meet us as elected members only, we will still present these proposals to them for their consideration.”

 

The Plaid options would make over £7m. available against the required policy savings of £4.3m. This would spare all the 52 services listed for cuts or increased charges by the Council for 2014-15. Furthermore, the highly-unpopular hike in charges for the use of sports facilities – rushed in by the Executive Board before the budget discussions started – would not have to be implemented.

 

THE PLAID OPTIONS:

 

1.    EMPLOYEE SEVERANCE SCHEME  (Appendix 1)

It’s been indicated by officers that applications by 130 staff for early retirement would be acceptable. Saving: £3.25m

 

2.    CWM PROFITS FROM RECYCLING REFUSE  (Appendix 2)

CWM Environmental Ltd is an “arms-length” company set up by the county council to collect, process and dispose of refuse. It has accrued profits of £1.3m from recycling refuse.  As the sole shareholder, the council could take a substantial dividend towards financing the budget, without weakening CWM’s financial position. Amount: £750,000.

 

(In the longer term, the council should consider taking CWM back “in house”.) 

 

3.    OUTCOME AGREEMENT GRANT FROM WELSH GOVERNMENT  

This annual ‘reward’ for meeting WG targets amounts to almost £2m, and is always allocated to capital spending. In view of the desperate financial situation, the council should consider sharing it between capital and revenue spending in order to support services – as constantly proposed by Plaid Cymru for several years. Amount: £1m.


4.    SELLING ASSETS  

The council owns around £1.5 billion worth of assets in land and buildings, much of which is surplus to requirement. Releasing property for sale and transfering the money to the revenue budget is a reasonable step. Amount: £1m.

 

5.    RESERVES AND ‘STAGNANT PROJECTS’  (Appendix 3)       

The council holds substantial funds as central and departmental reserves “for a rainy day.” That day has arrived. Plaid estimate that £500,000 could be transfered from reserves to revenue. It’s estimated that a further £500,000 could be made available from the fund reserved for non-active projects, i.e. proposed projects which have not yet started and may never start. Amount: £1m.

 

6.    COMMUNICATIONS

The budget for this non-statutory service is more than £1m and increasing. Unifying and rationalising the three departments (General, Direct and Press) and replacing Carmarthenshire News with an Annual Information Sheet would save £211,000

 

In perusing the Council’s Budget, Plaid notes that the salaries paid to senior officers in Carmarthenshire are amongst the highest in Wales. The Chief Executive earns £180,000+ (more than the UK Prime Minister); four other senior officers earn £130,000+ (the same as Cabinet Ministers) and another 19 Heads of Service £80,000+ (much more than MPs). This is a source of great public resentment. We believe a cross-party group should review the situation, with a view to setting reasonable salary scales for future appointments. We welcome the Welsh Government’s recent acceptance of a Plaid Cymru proposal that an independent panel should be established to scrutinise pay awards for senior council officers, including all benefits or 'perks', and make recommendation to the relevant authority.

 

CONCLUSION

 

In presenting these alternative ways of releasing substantial sums of money to pay for maintaining council services, Plaid Cymru is honouring its pledge to oppose cuts to services and increased public charges.

 

“This weak Labour-Independent administration seems content to implement a whole raft of draconian measures handed down by council officers. This is why we invited the elected members of the Executive Board only to meet us,” said Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths. “The administration’s proposals show little concern for all who depend on council services. They are prepared, for instance, to raid schools budgets to finance services, raise the price of schools meals and charge pupils aged over 16 for transport to schools and colleges. Spending on a wide range of services from highway maintenance to elderly care will be cut.  

 

“Plaid Cymru says that these steps are avoidable and repeats its previous promise to robustly challenge such unfair and unnecessary proposals. We will give a voice to the vulnerable, support those who face service losses and protect council staff. This is Plaid’s promise to the people of Carmarthenshire.”