Saturday 12 January 2013

'Cost-shunting' and the Council rag

As I have mentioned, the budget proposals are currently going through the various scrutiny committees in what passes in Carmarthenshire for consultation, eventually to be 'debated' by full council on the 26th February, in what passes in Carmarthenshire for 'democracy', and with the motion for the next meeting 'to respect the local press' rejected, we seem to be heading for new low points in the democracy stakes.

Just before Christmas a meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee met and discussed the budget. The list of concerns included the continuing overspend within Social Care and whether this was partly due to the Health Board transferring care into the community resulting in the council picking up the bill. The Director of Resources warned that this was called 'cost-shunting', and was 'being closely monitored' by the WLGA and the council.
A little further down the list someone asked about the funding of the sacred cow of County Hall, the press office and its 20-strong team as it appeared, in the document, that this department been overlooked for 'efficiency savings' along with 'Civic and Ceremonial' eg chauffeured cars and similar outdated trappings of municipal life.

One of the Assistant Chief Executives, you'll remember that here in Carmarthenshire we're lucky enough to have two, "reassured" the committee that, in respect of the 'Communications Team' it had not been overlooked, I suppose he could have added that the decision to withdraw adverts from the South Wales Guardian over negative reporting may have saved a few bob. Instead, the committee were 'reminded' of the income generated by the press office from 'organisations external to the council' which props up the council rag, the Carmarthenshire News.

These external organisations are, in the main, publicly funded bodies; the health board, the police and the colleges. The decision a couple of years ago to 'expand' the publication to include these members of the Local Service Board (another talking shop in case you were wondering) seems to have been quite an efficient example of 'cost-shunting' in itself, I don't suppose the WLGA is looking at that though. 'Adverts' are also placed by other departments of the council but requests by the Assembly Member for invoice details etc drew a blank and led to accusations of 'creative accounting'.

The Acting head of legal soothed concerns that there could possibly be 'Civic and Ceremonial' waste and referred to car leases, fuel costs and hospitality, clearly essential frontline services. In fact the proposals allow for an increase in expenditure over the next three years for both this and that of Communications.

So whilst the propaganda team will remain intact and the chains of office will be polished by Statutory Brasso; spending on roads, social care and elderly services are taking a hit. And what will become of the pilot to film meetings? Many council budget meetings throughout England will be filmed due to the direct public interest involved, but not in Carmarthenshire. According to the Director of Resources when this was raised at the meeting, this cost hadn't been 'factored-in' to the budget and would have to be met through reserves, it was not included in the E-Government report apparently, which is odd given that they'd spent eighteen months considering it and recommended its approval. 


Plaid Gwersyllt said...

Carl Sargeant has written to every LA in Wales asking for their proposals in respct of broadcast/tranmissions and social media. Expect a reply any idea then ask for it under FOIA.

Also why not try to influence the WAO's Annual Letter on Performance Nd Efficiency which includes the Democratic processes. I would be expecting the opposition to be ahead of the game on this.

Cneifiwr said...

If anyone swallows the line about the press office generating income, they will swallow anything. They may recoup part of the cost of "Carmarthenshire News" from other publicly funded bodies, but the press and PR operations are a significant cost item. I hope that councillors will vigorously contest the assertion, demand full transparency and propose that it is first in line for cuts.

caebrwyn said...

@Plaid Gwersyllt Thanks, any idea when replies to Carl Sargeant's letter are due? Is there a copy anywhere online?

@Cneifwr Let's hope so too.

caebrwyn said...

@Plaid Gwersyllt Have just seen Daily Post article about Carl Sargeant's letter. Will be chasing that one up with Carmarthenshire Council

Cneifiwr said...

At the risk of sounding pessimistic, they'll probably tell him what they have told everybody else - that it's in the pipeline - forgetting to add that there's no money allocated to it.

caebrwyn said...

Here's the link to the Daily Post article;

@Cneifiwr agreed. Be interesting to see what they say specifically about tweeting from meetings though, assuming he's asked and assuming they know what he's talking about. Don't suppose Kev will be keen, amongst others.