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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Campaigner speaks out on county consultation

Local campaigner Martin Crumpton gives his personal views on the recent llanblogger story in which Denbighshire County Council called for feedback from the public on its plans for budget cuts.
The opening gambit by Denbighshire is: “The Council has worked really hard over recent years to protect jobs and vital public services wherever possible."
This bothers me as questionable priorities. In protecting services, a statement which makes no distinction between services which are a legal obligation and those which aren't, it is surely implicit that the jobs involved will be, effectively, reserved occupations and so explicitly protected. However, that shouldn't mean protection is automatic. If there's fat, then trim it - the days of Jobs for Life are over except in the sedimentary layers of local government.
The authority is less squeamish about non-statutory services and has threatened closure of he Scala Arts Centre (Prestatyn) 'within days' - pretty much the same kind of hatchet-job Wrexham did on Plas Madoc.
They want our views - or are they testing the waters to see which cuts would draw the greatest furore? Are they seeking another paper mandate to cover their backs while they wield the axe just as if the 'consultation' was never going to make a difference anyway? Those who remember Betsi Cadwaladr's sham public consultations will know exactly what I mean.
I'd like to offer a simple test: If a service currently provided has no geographic dependency upon being run in Denbighshire, then centralise it. Apply this test across all local authorities in Wales, and £millions of savings can be achieved, not only in personnel costs but also IT, buildings and infrastructure costs.
In tandem, but a complete block on recruitment except where a business case, a GENUINE business case, can be made. Maximise redeployment of staff and let so-called 'natural wastage', i.e retirements and resignations, take care of reducing budgets all by itself.
Publish ALL expenditure over £5,000 so that in-house expertise, such as planning, no longer needs to be farmed out to consultancy firms, who make £millions from Denbighshire every year. Where technical expertise is required, fair enough, but make the case for it.
Crucially, STOP giving departments their own budgets. They will ALWAYS spend the whole lot in order to ensure they get at least that much next year. Ridiculous; they should have incentives NOT to spend.
The argument that Westminster government needs downsizing applies just as much to our devolved government and local authorities. The country can no longer sustain the behind-the-scenes practice of bloating the public sector in order to massage the unemployment figure.
Individually, you may not agree with all of my view s, but I hope we can all agree that it's in all our interests to make informed choices - not only where the axe should fall, but where increased investment needs to be made. Denbighshire, if they're serious about consulting us, could declare regular Open Weeks where members of the public can sit in on departments and watch how our money is being spent. Let's see if a system based on pay grades that delivers decent, cushioned salaries and perks actually gives us value for money.
All the above, in my opinion. Now I'd like to hear yours.
Martin Crumpton

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