A special RCT Cabinet meeting was held on 3rd July to look at medium term financial planning. Leaders of opposition groups, along with the one unaligned Independent Councillor, were invited along to take part in the discussion.
Nothing new came out of the debate. The Group Director of Financial Services gave a presentation on the current and projected financial situation outlining the need to implement Phase 2 cuts as soon as possible, and emphasising the drop in reserves as a result of having to cover the costs of full time nursery education following the judicial review.
He pointed out that with education accounting for 29% of the Council budget and Community Services 27& there is little room for manoeuvre and other services will be disproportionately hit. This especially as the Welsh Government have indicated that education spend should be protected and indeed have a 1% increase.
There is every indication that the situation will not get any easier as the Welsh Labour Government Local Government Minister has indicated that there will be around a 4% cut next year.
The Cabinet had little to say that added to the debate.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell said the meeting was little more than a performance piece to give the illusion that the Cabinet want to be all inclusive when in fact little has changed.
"The scarcity of detailed budgetary information has meant that this it is very difficult for opposition Councillors to come up with anything other than the headline proposals which we have been accused of.
It is impossible to pinpoint service cutbacks or savings without knowing exactly what money is being spent on, and not just the overall departmental spend.
The Cabinet and Officers keep talking about the "budget book" which outlines Council expenditure, but that is all it does - provide an outline.
For instance under "Supplies and Services" are listed "miscellaneous" expenditure of £12.033million and "other" costs of £2.869million. How can anyone effectively scrutinise a budget that gives no idea what such substantial amounts of money are spent on?
There have been comments that the savings have to come entirely from the non-statutory budget. This is of course untrue. As long as the Council meets its statutory obligations then there is nothing to say they cannot look at providing things differently and more cost effectively in those areas too.
"As for education then whilst schools budgets should be protected then there are no end of non schools, behind the scenes services that need to be looked at. "