How Argyll & Bute Works: Budget Cuts Again

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.

 

Author: Michael Breslin

I am no longer a councillor with Argyll & Bute Council but given the appalling treatment I got from the senior officers and a few elected members, I plan to continue keeping an eye on what the council is doing.

5 thoughts on “How Argyll & Bute Works: Budget Cuts Again”

  1. Michael,

    Did you ever find out when councillors were given (twice) the 1% pay rise? I want to write my hard hitting letter to the Observer for next week’s letter page and want to use these figures. I also am going to publicise the salaries of senior staff which you kindly showed me where to get them.

    Can I assume that Castle Toward is still not sold?

    Regards,

    Dave ________________________________________

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    1. I don’t know the exact dates but in both cases were effective, I think, from April, ie in April 2014 and again in 2015. No, the castle is not sold yet but probably will be in due course.

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  2. I noticed also in The Daily Mail that they refused to tell under request of a Freedom Of Information Request THE WAGES THE BOSS AT THE COUNCIL EARNS…you can put in the ABDC and its a refusal of information …

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3309596/The-shocking-scale-fat-cat-pay-public-sector-exposed-today-major-Daily-Mail-investigation.html

    Also if anyone is interested in FOIR`s there is a web site (that I haven’t used ) that helps with FOIR`s ….the page below should open at ABDC FOIR`s some juicy stuff.

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/temporary_staffing_35#incoming-727792

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  3. One of the tenets of democracy is “no taxation without representation”, an unfortunate omission which, once upon a time, pretty much lost the USA to the British Empire.

    In light of A & B Council’s seeming obsession with concealment and given the ongoing hullabaloo with Castle Toward and the attendant monthly drain on Council finances of over £20,000; the embarrassment of the Castle House gatehouse; the interminable process and frankly incompetence displayed in the compulsory acquisition of the Bombay Restaurant and now the crucially important issue of “Service Choices”, it strikes me that the secretive inclinations of the Council are having the effect of depriving me of the right to proper representation within the Council.

    Are the voters of Argyll and Bute aware that in many respects they are being disenfranchised? Certainly, local democracy and local decision making seem to be working in the interests of one individual and a subservient virtual cabal.

    Up the revolution!

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  4. NO FAN BUT ,IF THE HAT FITS AT ABDC …

    “The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.”

    ― Adolf Hitler

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