Thursday 11 March 2010


Passing the buck is not unique to the public sector. I can remember working for one company where I was expected to waste hours of my time arguing whether costs should really be in my cost centre or someone else's, when I felt it would actually be more productive for me to spend that same time trying to improve the overall bottom line.

But, when bonuses and targets are set on the basis of departmental targets, the result is to encourage behaviour which works against the overall greater interest. Something similar happens in local government...

Another of Carmarthenshire's wizard money-saving wheezes is to stop maintaining public conveniences and pass the responsibility to town and community councils. The move will apparently 'save' £100,000 each year, and is one of a number of plans the county council has to 'allow' town and community councils to take over services currently provided by the county council.

It's not really a saving at all of course – it is merely a transfer of cost from one public body to another. But I suspect that we can look forward next year to hearing the council leader praising her own council for its good management in reducing costs, whilst attacking town and community councils for the likely increases in their own council tax levels to pay for the transferred services.

This is no saving at all – it's not even a particularly clever conjuring trick.


Jeff Jones said...

Perhaps I should declare an interest as someone who has always liked and got on well with Meryl Gravelle. Having said that I think that you are being a little unfair on the Council. Like all councils in the UK they face an almost impossible task over the next 6 to 7 years. Facing massive pressures on the main services and the prospect of major cuts in the Assembly 's local government settlement the Council is really between a rock and a hard place. Trying to keep facilities open by handing them over the community councils is a sensible alternative to outright closure or ending the service. Any community council worth its salt should jump at the chance to work in partnership for the benefit of local people. My own community council has already agreed to provide £100,000 of the £600,000 the borough council has to spend to keep the local swimming pool open. Unlike County and borough councils local community councils are not capped when it comes to council tax. Maesteg Community Council already levies a Council tax of £50 per year. Without this money the historic town hall would have closed. Even if Plaid win control of Carmarthenshire in 2012 the economic weather will not change. Innovation, cooperation and a little understanding for those who have to take the difficult decision are required in the new Age of Austerity ahead for local government.

John Dixon said...


I knew that Meryl had to have at least one fan somewhere.

I don't object to the idea of transferring some services from county to town and community level - my objection is to seeing that described as a 'saving' (or, even worse, an 'efficiency saving'). Transferring expenditure from one body to another is clearly nothing of the kind.

I understand the point about town and community councils not being capped, leading to there being advantages in switching expenditure from one to the other; but that is really rather a silly situation isn't it?

As will perhaps be clear from other recent posts, I favour a very radical re-appraisal of local government, looking at what's it's for, how much freedom councils have, and how they are funded. It's perhaps a bit provocative - albeit deliberately so - but I think that whatever services local government is providing should be funded from local income, with freedom for councils to decide the nature and scope of the services which they provide. They should not simply be there to administer a service largely dictated by, and funded by, central government. And there are two ways of getting from where we are to that point...

Pretending that we have local government when central government - whether in Cardiff or in London - is calling all the shots is a form of delusion.