There are now 56 council executives in Wales earning over £100,000 a year, and a further 66 earning in excess of £75,000 per year. There are different ways of looking at these figures. In the Wales Online article I’m quoting from, ‘the TaxPayers’ Alliance co-ordinator for Wales, Lee Canning, said frontline staff were those providing the important services that need protection, adding: “That’s what taxpayers pay for”‘. Seeing as the TaxPayers Alliance is a Conservative and Unionist Party organisation, we can dismiss immediately the simpering bollocks about “frontline staff”. We can also dismiss the comments of Steve Thomas, representing the secretive Welsh Local Government Association, a Labour organisation, which exists to defend such salaries.
Personally, I’ve never been driven by socialist envy politics; and because I don’t support any political party I don’t engage in hypocritical points-scoring. In fact, I am quite relaxed about a chief executive earning £200,000 (inc. pension package) a year for running a Welsh local authority. The reason I criticise the situation we have today is because we don’t need 22 local authorities in a country of three million people. Eight local authorities would be enough. (My suggestion is on the left. Click to enlarge.) There are few now who don’t agree that we need fewer councils, and I have not heard anyone defend the 22-council model for a long time. Which means we are looking at the administrative equivalent of a dead man walking, with no one prepared to apply the coup de grâce.
Almost every week we get fresh evidence of how dysfunctional our local authorities are, and how they are no longer able to cope. If it’s not some gauleiter chief executive making a grab for untrammeled power, then it’s the twenty-first century equivalent of smoke-filled rooms in which a self-elected ‘cabinet’ cuts deals detrimental to the best interests of the people. As for providing acceptable services, both Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent have been stripped of responsibility for education. Telling us the Welsh Government accepts that many of our councils are too small to provide the full range of services, which explains why for a few years it has been urging ‘co-operation’ . . . but no one listened.
The attitude of the Welsh Government today can be summed up by, ‘Yes, we agree, things must change . . . but not yet’. In fact, nothing is promised until after the next Assembly elections in 2016. Though in the hope of killing time, and perhaps being seen to be doing something, the Welsh Government has now set up a body glorying in the name of the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery. Which an old conservative like me finds rather touching. For while this may be New Labour it is respectful of Welsh political tradition – ‘If you want to kick a problem into the long grass, set up a Commission’.
The main argument used by the Labour Government up to now to explain its inertia has been that there will be costs attached to local government re-organisation. Which of course is true, but look at it this way. There will be costs to local government reorganisation whether it’s done in 2019 or 2015; so why not do it sooner rather than later, and save us four years of wasted funding on a system we know no longer delivers? If the Labour Party had pulled its finger out we could have had elections to the new authorities on the same day as the Assembly elections in May 2016. It might not be too late.
Of course, the real reason for Labour’s inaction is that reducing the number of councils will result in culling a few hundred of its councillors . . . and there’s no such thing as ‘voluntary redundancy’ or ‘natural wastage’ when it comes to Labour councillors. They’re there ’til the Grim Reaper drags them – still trying to fill in that last expenses claim form – to the great council chamber in the sky. The latest smokescreen being tried on a gullible media to disguise this truth is the suggestion that the current local authorities have different council tax bandings, and so harmonisation would be required. Yes, obviously. Are we expected to accept this as an insurmountable reason for not going ahead with local government re-organisation?
The AM chosen to deliver this bombshell was Mike Hedges. Hedges is a former Leader of Swansea council. Just about the most uninspiring leader a city was ever lumbered with. (Why did it have to be the city of my dreams?) But a perfect exemplar for the decline in quality to be found in the Swansea Labour Party that opened the gates to the invaders I have dealt with in previous posts. I say “the AM chosen” because I don’t believe Hedges came up with this thought on his lickle own. He is simply the messenger.
But the real message is this: Wales is lumbered with a local government system that is causing increasing damage and expense but, in order to serve its own selfish interests, Labour is prevaricating over dealing with the issue; with the result that all of us, from the oldest to the youngest, are paying the price. Yet another example of Labour when in office using its power to serve the interests of the Labour Party, rather than serving Wales.
UPDATE 21.05.13: I am indebted to Glyn Erasmus for this table (Microsoft Excel) showing the current Council Tax Band D rate for each local authority and the differences between the various authorities I suggest for merger. Glyn also suggests that Monmouthshire could be linked with Powys. I can see where he’s coming from, they have a lot in common; but a merger would result in a unit looking rather like Chile. Or perhaps our Krajina!
It may say something about Wales, and the Labour Party, that our poorest areas seem to have the highest council tax rates. Note though that Swansea, Cardiff and Caerphilly still have relatively low levels of Band D Council Tax; so it will be interesting to see how long this lasts, now that Labour is back in control of these authorities.
In the case of Caerphilly I suppose there’ll have to be an increase if only to pay for the secret deal Labour did to bump up the salaries of the council managers. In Cardiff, with Russell Goodwage back in charge as puppet-master, we can safely anticipate an increase. While in the ugly lovely town there’s a new GLBT Officer to pay for, and other expenses to be loaded on the Jacks by councillors who’ve never worked but they do enjoy playing politics with other people’s money. Right on!