Thursday 18 February 2016

In brief; Budgets, LATCs, and Meryl gets cornered

Well, moving on...

I was intending to write about last week's council meeting but became somewhat distracted after the unexpected knock at the door last Thursday, so apologies for that.

Next Tuesday (23rd) full council will meet to approve the budget. As I pointed out here, there has been some re-jigging of the figures to reflect the 'better-than-expected' share of cash from the Welsh Government, rather than reflecting any 'we've listened to you' nonsense.

Anyway, headline stuff aside, as you can see from the agenda, there are still a raft of cuts for approval, £35.4m over the next three years. By far the biggest cuts, £17.5m, are still due to be sliced off the three year school budget. I cannot see how, without a clear view of the possibly dire implications for educational standards, this can be nodded through.

We'll have to see what transpires on Tuesday, the meeting will be webcast from 10am.


Big 'savings' are hoped for in the Leisure department, with the formation of a 'trust' well underway and Social Care and Housing are destined for a similar 'arms-length' arrangement.

Much of this service is currently outsourced to private companies, including the replacement of council run care homes with the privately run 'extra care' apartments but the council wishes to make the transition complete.

With the recent appointment of a specialist consultancy, Care and Health Solutions Ltd, based in Wolverhampton, it seems that a Local Authority Trading Company is on the cards. The company have already been involved in setting up several LATCs elsewhere, including Essex, Barnet and Dorset.

The benefit of a trading company, wholly owned by the council is that it can trade on a commercial basis whilst supposedly still under the control and ownership of the council.

One imagines that councillors might be present on the Board and have oversight of such matters as governance and spending, unlike that other wholly owned company, Cwm Environmental which dropped councillor representation a few years ago as superfluous to requirements.

Whilst in opposition last year the Plaid group criticised the Labour leadership for their 'obsession' for 'essentially outsourcing services and reducing democratic oversight'. It seems that the obsession for back-door privatisation was highly contagious.

Anyway, with Care and Health Solutions Ltd, believing that "this is a way to respond to the personalisation agenda and re-engineer services to fit the new reality,”, if nothing else, our less than perceptive councillors will be impressed with such splendid jargon.

Although LATCs are currently popular but some have failed and the service brought back in-house and whether the drive for profit will affect the quality of care is another concern which has been raised.
As a commercial company it can also hide its wheeling and dealings behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality.

With the council bringing in an external consultant, at unknown cost, such as Care and Health Solutions, which also manages the LATC for the first six months or so suggests that the appraisals and feasibility studies will inevitably point to the formation of a LATC as the council's 'preferred option'.

The first social care LATC was established in 2009 in Essex. In 2011 profits of £3.2m were ploughed back into the council, in 2013 the profit had dropped to £1.5m. Last year the company made a worrying pre-tax loss of £828,000.

As a precursor to its mass outsourcing to Capita Plc (see Mrs Angry's blog, Broken Barnet), Barnet Council set up a LATC 'Your Choice Barnet' in 2012. It was predicted to make a profit of £500,000 by 2015 but has run into trouble, with staff salaries now slashed by 9.5% and a damning Care Quality Commission report over its supported living service.

These 'future alternative delivery' arrangements were discussed at the Executive Board on February 1st and officers claimed that it was 'early days' and a 'very broad brush', there was no mention of the commissioning of consultants, a commission which suggest that in fact, the brush is not quite so broad, nor the days quite so early.


One interesting matter which arose at the end of the full council meeting last week concerned the accuracy of the executive board minutes, or rather the truthfulness of Meryl Gravell.

Over the past year or two Executive Board Member Cllr Gravell has claimed that it was local opposition to the council's plans for a car park at Parc Howard which scuppered a bid for lottery money.

I've mentioned this once or twice before, most recently after the last Executive Board meeting where not only did she add that the locals went 'behind our backs' but Plaid deputy leader Dai Jenkins joined in the attack on the troublesome locals.

Last Wednesday, those minutes were up for approval by full council and things came to a head when Labour Councillors Bill Thomas, Jeff Edmunds and Jan Williams demanded, in light of an investigation by the Lottery exonerating local people, that Meryl provide evidence of her repeated claims and that the minutes be amended to reflect the truth.

Despite attempts by the Chair Peter Hughes Griffiths to silence the debate, Meryl was pushed into responding, backtracking on her previous certainty, ducking the actual question and the request for evidence, by using that old favourite 'that was the information I was given at the time'.

With the Chair getting increasingly anxious that something resembling a debate was evolving, Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones came to his, and Meryl's, assistance by stating that it was only the Executive Board itself which could amend it's minutes...

The Carmarthenshire Herald reported the episode in detail and suggest that council leader Emlyn Dole makes sure, in future, that when his Executive Board members make assertions, they are backed by something akin to actual evidence.

Cllr Gravell (Ind)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please stop printing photos which might frighten the horses (and give nightmares to anyone of a sensitive disposition).