Friday, 5 February 2016

Time for a re-think

Published in the Llanelli Herald on 5 February 2015

Trimsaran in action, but without changing facilities

There’s all the difference in the world between cuts and savings. But the people who run our public services often can’t see the distinction.

The Tories have cut the Welsh Government’s budget by 11% since they came to power. Inevitably that has huge consequences for public services. By trying to minimize the impact on the NHS in Wales, the amount of money taken out of some other areas has been significant.
Labour in Cardiff have tried to shield Councils from the worst of it. In England Council budgets were savagely slashed by 37%, but in Wales the reductions have been much more modest. But as the Tories extend Austerity for the sake of it Welsh Councils face tough choices.
You may not have heard of Kevin Francis and Mike Bassett, but along with other volunteers in the Carmarthenshire Unified Sports Committee, they have been setting an example other Councils would be wise to follow. They found savings of £241,505 for the Council and made pitches affordable for clubs.
When the Independents were backed by Labour in Carmarthenshire Council we followed the advice of the Council officers, and the example of many other Councils, in increasing the fees for using sports pitches across the County. Parents and volunteers were rightly up in arms. Kevin and Mike showed there is a better way.
Now Plaid are propping up the tried Independents in County Hall, they’re continuing to listen to Council Chief Executive Mark James (despite saying they’d get rid of him), and instead of working with community groups to support them, they are simply trying to off-load the pitches, parks and changing rooms to local clubs and groups.

Rather than looking for savings by finding new ways of doing things - as the Carmarthenshire Unified Sports Committee have done - highly paid Council officers find it easier to close things or cut them loose.

When Kevin Francis and Mike Bassett spoke at the last meeting of the County Council they weren’t thanked, or asked what lessons they could pass on from their experience. They were shouted down by Plaid Council Chairman Peter Hughes Griffiths.
Kevin Francis of Carmarthenshire Unified Sports Committee
The Council should be using their reserves to develop a plan to find a way of keeping facilities for our communities, and supporting locals to look after them. Instead, Trimsaran Rugby Club have been told they’ll be without changing rooms unless they can find £50,000 to bring them up to scratch and agree to cover all future maintenance costs. They simply don’t have the money.

There’s little point spending £580,000 on a new cycle track for elite riders in Carmarthen when there are no funds to help keep existing facilities used by thousand of children across Llanelli.

The Tory cuts facing Council will get worse. Plaid-run Carmarthenshire are blowing £20 Million of their reserves on pet projects a year ahead of the next Council elections, but have no plans to help communities save their facilities. 

It is time for a re-think before we lose precious facilities, because once they are flogged for housing they won’t come back.

Lee Waters is Welsh Labour’s Assembly candidate for Llanelli

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