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Budget scrutiny in RCT impossible without information

December 11, 2013 2:00 PM

Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell is furious at the attitude of RCT's Director of Finance after he refused point blank to provide any further financial information to opposition Councillors to allow scrutiny of the budget.

Councillor Powell asked for detailed breakdowns for every department, indicating precise expenditure across the board, but in an email response Director of Finance and future Chief Executive Steve Merritt refused, saying that "I will not provide the detail requested as I feel you have adequate information."

The request followed much public criticism of opposition members by the Labour administration for failing to come up with detailed alternative proposals to the imminent cuts.

Councillor Powell said

"It is unbelievable that Members of this Authority are being denied information that should be freely available. How on earth can anyone be expected to come up with any concrete alternative suggestions to these savage Labour cuts without knowing what the money is being spent on?

"Unlike Mr Merritt and the ruling Labour group I do not believe it is enough to be simply given headline department figures and outline spending plans. Much of the waste that occurs in this Council is 'hidden' waste that will not show up in broad brush outline lists of expenditure.

"We are just expected to believe that efficiency savings have taken place to their full extent and there is no fat left to trim in any department. What is even more worrying is that it appears the Cabinet do not operate with any more detail which gives lie to the idea that this is a Member led authority.

"The public were present at the last Council meeting and the one previous to that when those of us on the opposition benches were challenged by Cabinet Members and indeed Mr Merritt himself to come up with alternative proposals. I trust given this response they will be keeping quiet on that front in future"

In his email responding to Cllr Powell's request the Director said that "Members have budget books and on a quarterly basis are provided with budget and spend analysis that gives detail as to the costs of services we provide this is complemented with information explaining the performance of our services."

RCT Welsh Liberal Democrat Campaign Manager Karen Roberts said the response is disgraceful and representative of the closed shop that RCT Council is.

"This just goes to show that the Labour Cabinet are certainly not earning their salaries. How can they be when they are allowing empires to be built up within the Council?

"Mr Merritt had the nerve to suggest in his reply to Councillor Powell that as he had never been part of the administration of RCT Council then he did not understand how the system worked.

"Well I have been part of the administration and I know how it can work, how Members can and should be responsible for scrutinising every aspect of Council spend. The decisions taken by this Council should be as a result of Members priorities, they are the ones elected to represent the public.

"Whilst I wouldn't personally trust the Labour party to run a bath let alone a Council then at least if we were sure the decisions were their then there would be a degree of democratic accountability.

"Instead they are letting Officers carry on with the same practices they have for years, wasting money and building up their own little empires."

ENDS

________________________________
From: Mike Powell [mailto:trallwn@hotmail.com]
Sent: 03 December 2013 16:43
To: Merritt, Steve
Cc: Griffiths, Keith
Subject: Budget Assistance

Dear Mr. Merritt,

At the Council meeting last week there was much criticism of opposition Councillors for failing to come up with full alternative budget proposals.
This is certainly not through lack of trying, as I am sure we are all keen to play our full part in ensuring financial stability along with an acceptable level of service provision.

However, as we have repeatedly said, in order to do that then we need to be provided with the necessary information. This means detailed breakdowns for every department, indicating precise expenditure across the board. Not merely the headline departmental figures which were presented to Cabinet but the in depth line by line spend. Only by looking at the complete breakdown of income and outgoings can anyone be in a position to come up with a full set of alternative proposals.

I am sure given the comments and the invitation for us to put forward alternative proposals you will be pleased to present us with all the background detail we need, detail which hasn't been made publicly available but which must exist and therefore be relatively easy to pass on.
This would then allow opposition Members to scrutinise the budget fully, separately or together, and put forward alternative proposals for savings.

Furthermore could I also be provided with an electronic copy of the budget presentation made at last weeks council meeting along with all of the supporting documentation too please.

Cllr Mike Powell

From: "Merritt, Steve" <Steve.J.Merritt@rctcbc.gov.uk> To: "Powell, Mike (external address)" <trallwn@hotmail.com> Subject: RE: Budget Assistance
Cllr Powell I disagree with your view on what you need to put forward valid and material proposals for budget reductions. Members have budget books and on a quarterly basis are provided with budget and spend analysis that gives detail as to the costs of services we provide this is complemented with information explaining the performance of our services. It is this information that is used by Cabinet to initially direct officers to analyse a variety of options Cabinet may wish to investigate.
You will note from the Phase 1 proposals that many such options were investigated and the results were input into the various reports produced. Whilst I appreciate that you having never being part of any administration of this Council you are unaware as to the processes used by this and many if not all other Council's in Wales.
So I am sorry but I will not provide the detail requested as I feel you have adequate information, including the staffing structures already provided to propose alternative budget reduction proposals, if you so wish. I attach a copy of the presentation to Council I made on the 27th November as requested. Steve