I am aware that some of the subjects I blog about may seem to be a bit repetitive to the reader but the sad fact is the same old repetitive nonsense keeps happening to me.
Most will know my views on the budget cuts and the secretive Service Choices Project Board that was set up by Cllr Walsh to ensure that secrecy was the order of the day. This group didn’t have to let anyone outwith the group know when the meetings were nor did they publish papers or produce minutes. I asked on numerous occasions for access to the papers and was refused. Officers said it wisnae them and that it was a political decision. Walsh said it wisnae him.
The man in the moon was clearly the culprit. He’s not owned up yet mind you.
Anyway, the Reform Group comprising myself, Cllr Dance and Cllr Marshall decided we needed to get all the information that was available if we were to produce a properly costed, alternative budget. The 3 of us agreed on our questions and we had a meeting with 2 very helpful officers on 28 October. We went through our questions then submitted them in writing the same day. We agreed with the officers that we would accept the answers as and when they had them to hand and they have been coming to us bit by bit.
One of the questions was quite simple: given that the Service Choices options are in the public domain, can we now see the papers that went to the project board. These would give us context, impact, consequences and perhaps what alternatives were considered and rejected. We believe we need this information to allow us to do our job as councillors and to try and come up with alternatives.
The reply we got was almost word for word what we got before, summarised as NO.
The Project Board is not a meeting of the Council, or a Committee or Sub-Committee of the Council but is, rather, a members working group. Papers/information considered by the Project Board is now in the public domain, via recommendations to the Policy and Resources Committee, and Council, but other papers, such as notes of meetings etc remain confidential.
We asked who made this decision. We have not yet had a reply but it’s probably going to be a wisnae me one like we had before.
So, this evening a motion has been prepared by us to go to the November council meeting. That is reproduced below. We await some developments with interest. More to follow but I have to ask you all: how long are you willing to put up with this nonsense?
The device used by the administration in setting up a Service Choices Project Board, which did not need to operate within the council’s standing orders, has meant that the choices now on offer are limited, ignore other possibilities for savings and, in so doing, have excluded 2/3 of the councillors from the detailed discussions and papers.
Meanwhile, the administration keeps other issues of financial significance away from the budget issues entirely, notably the last 2 items on the agenda of the last Policy & Resources Committee meeting. These items dealt with issues relating to the council’s Employability Team and the sale of Castle Toward. As these were exempt items, this motion cannot mention any points of detail but it is fair to say that between these 2 items council expenditure of £1m+ was involved. The proposers of this motion believe that the bulk of these costs were avoidable.
The issue with the Employability Team was known at the time the council discussed the Service Choices options at the October council meeting but was never mentioned by the policy lead, Cllr A Morton. Nor was it mentioned by Cllr Dick Walsh Leader of the Council & Policy Lead for Strategic Finance. The costs of keeping Castle Toward empty continue to be a drain on this council’s resources.
The £1m+ in question is approximately the same in value as the total of the following Service Choices cuts:
· 2016/17 proposal to cut the ASN budget
· 2016/17 proposal to cut the school attendance officer budget
· 2016/17 proposal to cut instrumental instructor budget
· 2016/17 proposal to cut classroom assistant budgets
Other examples could have been used but the underlying message would have been the same: waste needs to be cut before services and jobs.
The administration presents itself as a model of financial governance but this may be far from the reality. The proposers of this motion have consistently been refused access to the papers issued to, and created by, the project board so testing the administration’s financial competence is not possible without access to this kind of information. This motion moves that this council should agree that the project board papers referred to above are made available immediately to the 2/3 of elected members who were excluded from the process.
The proposer and seconder of this motion, as members of the Reform Group, will use this hitherto secret information to propose an alternative set of budget proposals, aimed at reducing waste and minimising the damage the current proposals will create in abundance.