Published in the Llanelli Herald on 12th February
There’s a row going on at the minute. Although it focuses on Parc Howard it is in fact about a much wider issue - what are Councils for?
The Tories have a clear agenda - though they don’t shout about it - to shrink Councils to the bare minimum.
There’s a list of things by law that County Councils have to take care of, so called ‘Statutory services’ - things like schools and social services. Everything else, like parks, libraries and leisure, as treated as ‘discretionary’ - nice to have, but not essential.
The Tories want off-load the ‘discretionary’ bits and then squeeze the rest. And by cutting Council budgets (via a 11% cut to the Assembly’s budget) they are forcing Local Authorities to follow suit.
It is clever politics - get Councils to take the blame for cuts whilst achieving your game plan. And get local Councillors to tear into each other into the bargain.
Sure enough, it's playing out according to plan in Carmarthenshire.
The Welsh Labour Government have shielded Welsh Councils from the worst until now. Whereas Councils across the border have faced cuts of 37%, Labour Ministers in Cardiff have delivered a budget for Councils that is better than they planned for. This is one of the reasons why Carmarthenshire Council have been able to announce a spending spree which they claim shows they are anti-austerity.
This short-term relief distracts us from the bigger picture - there are more cuts coming down the line. For that reason Carmarthenshire has been off-loading the ‘discretionary’ bits of its portfolio in preparation.
This is where Parc Howard comes in. The old mansion and its grounds are on the list, along with raft of other parks, for people to express an interest in taking on. The leader of Carmarthenshire Council, Plaid’s Emlyn Dole, says town and community Councils will get first refusal but if they don’t want to pick up the tab he’ll look for alternatives. Housing developers are watching with interest.
Emlyn Dole says Llanelli Town Council should take on all the parks in the town. Carmarthenshire Council currently spend around £800,000 a year looking after them and passing that bill onto the Town Council will double the amount of money the local council have to find very year.
To do as Emlyn Dole asks would mean that the Council Tax for a typical Band D property in Llanelli would double from £94 to £188 per year, just to keep what we’ve got.
And that’s what the row is about.
Emlyn Dole claims that Community Councils around Carmarthen already pay for their local facilities, but that is very misleading.
Rather than trying to pit Llanelli versus Carmarthen, let's see if we can work together to come up with a cooperative solution. Some Councils have created Mutual trusts to look after their local assets. I’d like to see us do the same.
Let's not play the Tories game. Let's see if we can do something different.
Lee Waters is Welsh Labour’s Assembly candidate for Llanelli