As we have said time and time again without access to detailed budget information then it is impossible for any opposition group to come up with full alternative proposals. The Cabinet and indeed Officers keep insisting that all information is available, but that is not true.
The only figures that have been provided are headline department figures. There is a need to delve deeply into those, line by line and weed out what is necessary and desirable and what is simple unaffordable or a service that the Council need not be providing. That should be job of the Cabinet.
Last week a special Cabinet meeting was held and leaders of opposition groups were invited along to contribute to the alleged debate. The meeting turned into something of a set piece exercise with nothing new coming form the Cabinet and opposition members in return stressing that they are more than willing to work with the Cabinet but that they need more information. Also that they will not be part of a political pantomime where there is only a pretense of engagement with others.
RCT Welsh Liberal Democrats do have numerous thought on where savings could be made, as we have said previously.
The Labour leader suggests that opposition Councillors should, if they disagree with Labour plans, come forward with alternatives to the same value. Quite how they expect that to happen with no accurate breakdown figures is anyone's guess.
Nonetheless here are some of our thoughts.
Personnel related changes
Some changes have been made to the VER scheme, but it needs to be looked at further. Stop paying out unnecessary compensatory payments on top of redundancy payments. Employees in the private sector do not enjoy these benefits so why should their money go towards providing them for public service employees?
In the three years up to 2010 RCT council spent more than £9m on voluntary redundancy packages for 274 people. Between 5th July 2011 and 30 January 2013 nine meetings of the VER panel were held to discuss payments to 56 staff members. Statutory redundancy payments amounted to £628,173, and on top of this early access to pension payments cost £984,173. This amount practically doubled by the addition of non-statutory 'compensatory' payments of £1,548,962.
If the post is redundant then why are we paying a compensatory payment on top of the early access to pension and statutory redundancy payments?"
Stop paying for union representatives. The unions can afford to employ full time representatives themselves, put the onus back on them.
Whilst it is right that workers should have adequate representation, that should come from employees of the Unions themselves. It is totally illogical that an employer should employ people to stand up for the rights of their own workers against their employer.
The Council, as we are constantly hearing from the Labour Cabinet, is in dire straits financially, yet it employs two members of staff who work on behalf of Unison and two who work on behalf of the GMB at a cost of around £125,000 a year. In 2011 when the Council underwent a review of terms and conditions which saw many Council employees lose out financially they seconded another three members of staff.
Cut more managers. There are too any layers of management in this Council we don't need them all. Whilst our costs in this area may not be excessive when compared to other Councils then that is besides the point. This Council should take the decision to invest more in front line services.
The use of external consultants should be stopped unless in extraordinary circumstances, not as is current practice for a wide range of things which should be the responsibility of senior Officers. This appears to apply largely to HR and legal.
When the Director of Education was appointed £7,671.50 was spent on external recruitment consultants. It cost the taxpayer £100,000 for legal advice from Eversheds when they undertook a review of the terms and conditions of the lower paid workers. This despite having substantial and costly legal and human resources departments in house
The PR and Strategy department we have long been opposed to in terms of its size, its huge cost, and the political nature of its communications with the public. The Outlook magazine is a not appreciated by the majority of residents and should be scrapped. It does not provide an effective service, instead being overtly political in nature which is not the role of a Council newspaper.
Retain a minimum number of event and press staff within the Chief Executives Department. Move the tourism officer to economic development.
Stop spending on needless advertising - stick to those legal notices which have to be issued. Scrap the service level agreement with GTFM which is more beneficial to the radio station than to the Council
Put some Council services out to private / community control.
Examine ways of delivering services differently - whether that is via community business or private companies, or through the third sector. The Council does not have to provide all services directly but can take a facilitating role if that results in better more cost effective front line services.
Day nurseries. Why does this Council need to run them, and why do they need so many back room staff to service them? Especially since many are now moving over to Flying Start only centres and so are not addressing the Council's statutory duty to ensure a sufficiency of childcare
Why has the Muni been singled out for closure by the Council, why not look for private / community enterprise to run all three theatres? The Council has proven that it does not have the business sense needed to run these places.
Look at putting leisure services out to private enterprise. Either that or look to make them more profitable.
Again difficult to pin down exactly where increases could be made without the full range of charges in front of us and the usage figures but it is not a crime to make money. The Council needs to take a more business-like approach.
Does this Council have an income strategy, or are charges just looked at on an ad hoc basis?
Take the Big Weekend for example. Although there is seemingly a significant input for the RCT events team then the Council says it makes no profit from it. Why?
There is surely scope for more income from leisure centres, and this does not necessarily mean increasing prices.
Make them more attractive venues for people looking to hold events - by lowering the cost of hall hire to begin with. Bar takings could more than compensate as in private venues,
The prices currently charged in vending machines there is too high, if they were lowered then more people may use them increasing overall income. Small amounts maybe but all add up.
Allotment fees are almost ridiculously low, at around £1 a month. Now whilst we would want to encourage people to grow their own food then surely that price is far too low? Again relatively small amounts overall but part of the financial jigsaw.
Keep a closer eye on what is being spent in each department.
A closer eye needs to be kept on departmental spends and this is why the full line by line figures are needed not just headlines.
It appears that some departments have slightly more available money to distribute than others, and in some instances this seems to be done on a fairly ad hoc basis.
Take for example the seemingly random invoices from Brynna community centre for RCT's contribution to electricity which has been brought to the attention of the Chief Executive previously - £1000 for each of the past two years with no usage figures backing this up. How many more instances are there of ad hoc agreements with various community groups that are not based it appears on any specific requirements or backed with any firm agreements?
A substantial amount has been spent on a private nursery in Clydach Vale to enable it to take on Flying Start children. That same nursery has benefitted from several grants from this Council seemingly in an effort to use up money from budgets pre April. Why? It may be that the money is from external sources but we don't know, and even if it is then it is still public money.
There are instances that have been reported to us of a number of deals that have been made with community groups with little or no written agreements in place. Who is auditing these, and are they providing value for money?
Still more efficiency savings to be made
Follow the example that our schools have to set with regard to efficiency savings - stop sending out single sheets of paper in large A4 envelopes, stop sending out reams of appendices to council reports when we are all issued with lap tops.
It may only seem like small fry in the great scheme of things but it all adds up.
Bigger items of expenditure
There are still statutory services which the Council currently provide a service above that which they are obliged to.
Home to School transport is one example. The annual bill is huge - in 2012/13 it cost £10,258,935. The service needs to be reviewed but not just with a view to taking an axe to it.
Could it be more effectively run? Could we look at providing a wider service where pupils not eligible for free transport could pay to travel on buses thus ensuring they have safe transport to school? Also why are buses from Llantwit Fardre on contract to Cardiff Council coaches with seat belts and safety features whilst our children travel on ancient double deckers?
Last week a special Cabinet meeting was held and leaders of opposition groups were invited along to contribute to the alleged debate.