Thursday 2 February 2017

Budget, Stress Management and deja vu

Update 6th February;
As predicted, the local election was forefront in the minds of the Exec Board. The closure of St Clears leisure centre has been postponed and the grants to Citizens' Advice phased over three years rather than in one big hit. The school budget will have an 'injection' of £1,76m next year which will make the cut 'cash neutral', apparently. A 'Schools Efficiency Officer' will also be appointed. The school cuts will still be around £10m over three years.
The council bean counters are reducing the average balance by which the council's loans are reduced each year from 4% to 2.5% which will, if approved, release a few quid to fund the above 'injection'.


Next Monday's Executive Board will consider the budget for the next three years. By far the biggest cut will be to the schools' budget, around £11m, with additional slices taken off school improvement support and SEN services.

It remains to be seen whether, with the local elections just around the corner, a couple of red herring cuts might be dropped but it's unlikely that there will be room for much movement in the £11m. The council is facing an overspend of £1.3m this year but, digging a little deeper, we see that the quarterly budget monitoring reports are peppered with 'efficiency slippages', a quaint term to describe the failure to meet the cuts decided at previous budgets, all of which suggests that the cuts programme is not working, and with schools expected to deplete their reserves, the outlook is bleak. At the other end of the age scale, £1.2m is due to be cut from home care packages over the next three year.

But never fear, there's always the capital programme and the many opportunities for hard-hat high-vis photo opportunities they provide as yet another steel-clad out-of-town monolith emerges. The agenda includes the decision to build a covered cycle track at Pembrey Country Park. All very well but the council's borrowings, largely to fund the monoliths, is now approaching £400m with another £10m borrowed last September, goodness knows what for.

The director's report on the five year capital programme mentions the decision last week to give leader/chief executive a big blank cheque to sign off the city deal, which, crucially for the Carmarthenshire taxpayers, includes the Wellness Shed Village.

The unknown cost to the authority, and the hefty borrowing which will be required throws the council bean counters' calculations up the creek. And what of the interest payments on all this borrowing? Currently this stands at £14m per year and it is now clear this will rise significantly but no one has a clue by exactly how much. I'm still astonished how nearly all councillors fell for the hard sell 'Wellness pitch' at last week's extraordinary meeting, complete with a temper tantrum from Mark James when someone dared to politely challenge the wisdom of the whole project.

The budget will go to full council later this month where election fever, rather than future black holes, will be in forefront of the minds of most of our councillors.


With the council's recent £500,000 tender for stress management services in the news I thought I was having a deja vu/senior moment. After a couple of days the penny finally dropped and I remembered that a tender went out for exactly the same thing in January 2012, I even blogged about it briefly.

The 2012 tender was a little more explicit as to which 'partners' of the council would also benefit from the service and included Castell Howell Foods Ltd, a private hospital, a private school and a manufacturer of puddings. It is not specified which private companies might benefit this time round.

It's not clear whether anyone was ever awarded the 2012 contract and reports since that time suggest the service was kept in-house. In fact only a couple of weeks ago a departmental business plan stated;
'The use of the in-house stress management/Cognitive Behavioural Therapy services continues and is focused on supporting stress, anxiety and depression, alongside management interventions and support' 
There's no mention of outsourcing the service. In fact, a revised Stress Management policy was approved at last Monday's Executive Board meeting, again there was no mention of this tender or the half a million quid.
Furthermore, a planned budget cut of £135,000 is being proposed for health and safety 'restructuring' in general 'to yield savings from a reduction in expenditure on external contractors' .

I do not want to minimise the impact of stress, far from it, and of course, the council does have a legal duty of care towards it's employees but unfortunately, having been contacted by numerous current, and former, members of staff over the past seven years it seems that that duty of care is often disturbingly selective, with 'special' treatment being reserved for whistleblowers and opponents of regime.
Furthermore, it would be interesting to know exactly which private companies will be benefiting as 'partners' of the council, another very selective term.

Still, on a lighter note, if anyone is in need of some therapy, I can think of one person who should be at the front of the queue...


Patricia B said...

If officers and other staff were allowed to carry out their duties with openness, honesty and integrity, according to their Code of Conduct it would go a long way to alleviating stress levels in the work place. Members of the public on the other hand who have received despicable, dishonest treatment from officers of this authority over many years which has caused more stress than any member of staff could ever imagine, are the ones who should be awarded funding.

Anonymous said...

Follow the money...

Anonymous said...

I agree with this . But the worse stress and abuse is dished out by 2 particular nasty cllrs to other cllrs and staff yet they are still allowed to comtinue

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the Evangelicals will offer this service?