Sunday 17 August 2014

Third Sector to 'feel the pain'

As Carmarthenshire Council, like other Welsh Councils, looks to find extra cuts over the next few years, it seems it's going to start with third sector organisations; voluntary and community groups, charities and the like.

The actual 'volumes of funding' to these groups, councillors are told, is somewhere 'in the region of £35m', clearly the council is not sure of the exact amount...but, they are also told, it is now time for third sector groups to 'feel the pain'.

At a Policy and Resources committee meeting held April, members were given the figure of £19m, to be paid out in 2013/14. This Third Sector spending review is not new, the Policy and Resources committee has been looking at reducing funding for sometime, the upshot being that actually the whole system is so disorganised, scattered and mismanaged that no one is entirely sure who is getting what, what for, and what exactly they're doing with it.

The Wales Audit Office has yet again this year repeated it's concerns over the "weaknesses in the Council’s grant management arrangements which present a significant financial and reputational risk to the Council"

Over the past few years the council has been looking to charities and volunteers to take over the running of services such as Luncheon Clubs and day centres for the elderly, and cuts to Citizens Advice and Women's Aid, for example, have also been part of recent budget decisions. Although there is undoubtedly room to sort the wheat from the chaff, to further squeeze these suppliers of frontline services is a little counter productive.

The third sector groups will be asked to complete an Impact Assessment questionnaire which will form the basis of future decisions, those that can afford to pay a professional to fill it in, and those who have a 'close relationship' with the council, will be at a distinct advantage.

It's again a matter of priority, will the council be looking at their funding to that other great charity, Scarlets Regional Ltd? Will they be asking them to start paying some rent for the stadium or will they continue to pay them rent for 'office space'?

Will questions be asked over the twenty year, £5m, commitment to pay the owners of the Eastgate development for renting even more office space?

And rumours are circulating that questions have very much been asked over an alleged £2m payment to Sainsburys relating to their new store in Cross Hands.

And what about the unfortunate deal over the car park sale between the council and the Scarlets, where value for money and the public pound were the least of the council's concerns. It smacks of hypocrisy when the terms of this new review into third sector funding is to "Ensure that grant funding given to the 3rd sector delivers value for money for our citizens and the public pound"

I could go on about the unlawful payments and the costs to defend them and fees incurred, including £3k+ just for Mr Kerr QC to turn up at the emergency meeting on the 27th Feb. But I won't.

Savings will have to be made but there is a wider picture here and one of priority, and scrapping the council propaganda sheet would be a welcome start. Then, for instance, is the amount the council spends on private consultants, around £2.68m in 2012/13, and that's without expenditure on external legal advice which was just shy of a quarter of a million in 2013/14.

The Auditor General, in his statutory 'Annual Improvement Report' stated that due to the failures in governance highlighted by the two Public Interest Reports it is of the utmost importance, with regards to the forthcoming financial challenges, that public confidence is fully restored in the decision making process. He also refers to the ongoing governance review being undertaken by the WLGA;

"...The increasing financial pressures (and potentially the changing face of local government in Wales) will mean that the Council is likely to have to make some difficult policy decisions and all officers and members have a key role to play in this, and in ensuring that any trust and confidence lost as a result of weaknesses in arrangements is rebuilt. 

Until the WLGA has concluded its work and we have completed forthcoming improvement assessment work, the Auditor General will be unable to conclude whether the Council can put in arrangements to continually improve." 

Can I remind readers that there are only a couple of days left to send in your contributions to the WLGA review, (link here), the deadline is Wednesday 20th August. 


Anonymous said...

There is only one solution. SCRAP the County Council and hand the running of the county over to a not for profit consortium made up of the best we have in Carmarthenshire. Not only would it save money but it would actually benefit the citizens of Carmarthenshire tenfold. This bunch of parasitical freeloaders must be made to pay for their complete and utter incompetence in all matters. They cannot even run a toilet facility.

Anonymous said...

Being fair to them, they have at least conceded that -they are dumping (ahem) them on Community Councils...

Blodwen said...

Would there be any point in having a referendum to change the way local government is delivered? I understand that if enough people want it, there can be a referendum to change the system to a mayoral one and although that would mean a mayor would have considerable power, at least it would be someone who was elected and could be got rid of if he/she abused the position and it would take some of the power away from senior, paid, officers. Just a thought.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Blodwen, I suppose "Mayor Meryl" does have a certain ring to it, doesn't it?

Blodwen said...

Don't the public have to vote for the mayor? In which case, there aren't many, if any, of the ruling cabal who'd get a look-in!