West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Cutting Capital Spending would Damage ‘Vision’ in Cash-Strapped Carmarthenshire

Council Keeps on Spending but Slashes Services

Vision or illusion? ‘Vision’ characterises Carmarthenshire County Council, according to leader Kevin Madge (Labour, Garnant) and also to Labour colleague Anthony Jones (Llandybie). Both backed the council’s capital building programme, Cllr Madge exclaiming that it created jobs, he was proud of regeneration, he must thank the council’s officers for all their hard work, etc.

Cllr Anthony Jones referred to “aspirational projects”, vital to prevent Carmarthenshire from stagnating. “We tell officers to bring us projects,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting to set the 2014-15 budget. The projects were on the shelf, ready to be started whenever capital funding was available.

Cllrs Madge and Jones, and the rest of the Labour-Independent administration, refused to support an alternative plan put forward by the Plaid Cymu group, the largest on the council. Cllr Madge protested that the alternative budget would mean a reduction in the capital programme, which would never do. While the administration has ‘vision’, Plaid Cymru had none, he said.

Conflating ‘vision’ with capital expenditure has misled Labour and Independent councillors into backing such money-pit projects as Garnant Golf Course, Parc y Scarlets, and probably Llanelli’s East Gate, in my opinion. More of the same type of ‘vision’ would surely bankrupt the council. Already, commented Cllr Sian Caiach (People First, Hengoed), interest on loans costs the council some £16 million a year.

You could protect a lot of services with £16 million a year, in fact the council would not need to make any of the £31 million cuts it identified for the three years 2014-15 to 2016-17.

Capital spending over the next five years, excluding the housing programme, should be £270 million, said Cllr Jeff Edmunds (Labour, Bigyn), presenting the budget. Some £170 million would be coming from outside sources, meaning the council itself has to find £100 million.

Meanwhile, council tax is rising by 4.77%, £4.77 in every £100. There’s a lot more pain besides, including less money for the Welsh language, a lot less for road repairs, higher charges for using council-owned sports and leisure premises, new charges for evening and Sunday parking, and on and on: Y Cneifiwr has compiled a long list.

Cllr David Jenkins (Plaid Cymru, Glanaman) pointed out that the council was not obliged to have a capital building programme, that some capital programmes were inessential, and that some of the property portfolio could be sold to raise money. But, in the view of the Labour-Independent majority, such proposals merely displayed a lack of vision.

Plaid Cymru’s alternative budget was, predictably, rejected.

As for vision, a focus on good-value public services  would be more appropriate in hard times than visions – or illusions — of shiny construction developments, in my view .

Pat Dodd Racher


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