Full Response: Ann’s response to Denbighshire’s consultation on council cuts

I am submitting this response to the document “Cutting the Cloth” which seeks views from residents around the proposed budget cuts. I feel that the document lacks sufficient information to allow for a reasoned and informed choice about how the cuts will impact on the lives of Denbighshire residents and those visiting the area.

The document cannot be used as the method for which the local authority can congratulate itself on being open and transparent over the budget discussions. I have previously asked for the Impact Assessment and Equality Impact Assessment documents but they have not been provided and therefore this consultation process must be seen as nothing less than a tick box exercise and again shows the authority’s complete disregard for meaningful engagement and discussion with its ratepayers and residents alike.

The lack of detail provided within this document is very concerning and gives rise to the perception that the cuts are being plucked from the air as a way of just counting up figures until the authority reach the target amount they have identified as needing to save. There does not appear to be any meaningful cost benefit analysis carried out on the effects these cuts will have on the overall performance of the authority.

I want to make some strategic points about the cuts to the budget and then go into some specific budget lines in greater detail.

Your economic ambition document and vision sets out the authority’s priorities for town centres based on the Economic & Community Ambition Strategy 2013-2023.Yet there is no reference to this neither is there any evidence that this strategy has been considered in arriving at the decisions outlined in the “Cutting the cloth” document.
From the document it appears that the coastal strip of Denbighshire that is Rhyl, Prestatyn and surrounding catchment areas are being targeted for the most disruption to service delivery and will be hardest hit. To quote one resident “the poor are being hit the hardest once again”.

There does not appear to be any real thought on what the impact on these proposals will have overall as they do not appear to be able to be discussed or looked at in conjunction with any existing difficulties areas may already be facing.

I have already mentioned the authority’s economic strategy and want to examine how the impact of the proposals now being looked at will, in my opinion and that of several people I have spoken to, have serious and far reaching negative consequences that do not appear to have been explored.

Rhyl Town Centre

The proposal to remove CCTV from the town centres will undoubtedly be one such proposal and the negative effect that this will have on the residents and visitors to town centres such as Rhyl will cause irretrievable damage to the long term economic prospects of regenerating the town. I believe that this proposal will also put the authority outwith statutory duties of public protection under the Crime & Disorder Act, Section 17 which places a duty on local authorities to public protection. The issue of insurance for what few small independent businesses is almost likely to be increased as the withdrawal of CCTV will be viewed as having a greater risk of claims and we may see many of these businesses being forced to move out or close down. The saving of £200k may be achieved but it could conceivably cost the authority more in relation to its image and lack of investment into the town centre which would result in a loss of rates and council tax payments. When that is coupled with the proposal around reducing street cleansing and street light maintenance, then the town centre becomes less attractive to investors and those who may be considering either locating a business or family to the area. The same can be said of the proposal to stop the pest control service and also trading standards. I feel that the explanation that CAB can offer the same service as trading standards is very simplistic in its view and having had conversations with CAB and other voluntary organisations, their financial circumstances are that they too cannot be certain they will be able to meet the increased referrals to take on the full role of the trading standards department from the authority. This suggestion I believe flies in the face of the authority’s Economic & Community Ambition Strategy in relation to the Priorities for Action which state “Denbighshire will be better placed to achieve its vision for Economic & Community Ambition if we concentrate our efforts (…)into working to deliver(…) Businesses that are Supported and Connected; (…) Vibrant Towns and Communities; A Well Promoted Denbighshire”

The financial savings quoted in the document in Phase 1 and 2 are £345.00 but without being able to see the workings of the impact assessment must lead me to think the negative impact will be far greater but more importantly will stunt the recovery of Rhyl Town Centre and Denbighshire as a whole.

All of the above must have a negative effect on the authority’s vision for Rhyl and I cannot see how these proposals can be discussed without seeing a full impact assessment or the effects of cost benefit analysis on the council future vision for the area.

I note that the CAB are being spoken about forming a new working partnership that would allow for the Denbighshire Welfare Rights Unit to be absorbed by CAB, again this seems to be ill thought out and will certainly be a disadvantage to many of those seeking assistance. This brings into question the future Outcome Agreement grant which the Authority receive for identifying vulnerable adults and assisting them to claim their entitlements which often means that they spend locally thereby assisting the economy of our areas. The £200k savings again is probably in real terms much less and may lead to the Authority incurring additional unexpected costs on staff redundancies.

Arts and Leisure

This is another area were the proposed cuts appear to serve to seriously disadvantage the two major population towns and therefore is not equitable neither fair to residents in these areas.

The withdrawal of subsidy funding to the Scala Arts Centre and the possibility that the running of the Pavilion Theatre could be offered to private enterprise is not equitable with the reduction to funding at the Ruthin Craft Centre which sees a reduction in funding. There is no information provided with the latter proposal to be able to ascertain what percentage of funding is being proposed to be cut from the Ruthin Craft Centre. It seems surprising that the authority seem happy and content to deny residents and visitors to the Rhyl and Prestatyn any opportunity to have access to the arts and cinema at the expense of continuing to provide funding to what is a private enterprise made up of a consortium of artists and crafts people who should be able to be self financing. If this sector has to receive cuts then they should be looked at equitably and should not be looking to leave a vast number of residents with no access to the arts under whatever form they choose to access this sector.

Tourism is a key factor in the authority’s make up and without having any facilities in either Rhyl or Prestatyn and given that the area neither has the Nova, Prestatyn or the Sun Centre, Rhyl then we should be confident that the arts sector has a presence in these towns. The proposals to charge a fee for using the Drift Park, Rhyl is one that has caused a great deal of unrest with many in the area and in fact was pointed out to me that the paddling pool was gifted to the people of Rhyl for their children to use for free for generations to come.

I believe that the proposals are morally wrong on this issue and may also not be able to be achieved given the terms of the grant funding that allowed the project to be built. There is no additional information as to how this proposal together with the other cuts impact on those who rely on tourism for their living.

The reduction to the life guards working season also is a major contributory factor to having a negative impact on the future of the towns and also on the future viability of the authority should its coastal tourism fail as it seems likely to under the raft of cuts proposed.

It is interesting to note that the authority seeks to increase income at leisure centres by greater membership, however, there are no figures to substantiate this and as I suspect should part of increasing income mean increasing the hire charges then I feel this will again provide a negative impact.

Education

Proposals under this section again seek to heap more burdens on those communities that are already under pressure. The Welsh Government is committed to ensure that education spending is protected and has maintained that commitment throughout the course of this Assembly term and has introduced and increased the amount of Pupil Deprivation Grant available to all pupils in receipt of free school meals.

The proposal to withdraw the uniform grant, I believe is one which seeks to do most damage to a pupils learning and engagement with any school activity.

I believe that the proposal to withdraw the subsidy on parental financial contributions also will have a negative impact on a certain number of pupils. I should point out it is not permissible to stop a pupil from taking part in any educational school trip because of the lack of parental financial contribution.

The authority has had a commitment to ensure that its pupils can take part in learning and performing with a musical instrument and the work of the William Mathias Trust has been exceptional in providing opportunities for children from all backgrounds to perform and showcase their many talents.

The major concern in the cuts to education is the schools library services and again I would want to see the impact assessment that believes this cut will not damage a child’s ability to learn.

These cuts seem to me to want to take Denbighshire backwards into poor education standards and puts onuses on parents therefore being total inequitable for a group of pupils in communities that will also bear the burden of the greatest number of cuts to services in their communities.

Other proposals all add and compound the very things that Denbighshire LEA had to address in order to provide statutory services in schools and serves to negate the positive actions taken to improve the education experience for all our children. It appears that should these proposals be agreed then Denbighshire will be failing another generation and given that there will be less advocacy available to them and their families and a poorer economic base from towns that are struggling to survive then the vision and economic strategy will become almost impossible to achieve.

When looking at the proposals contained in Section1 which reduces the open access Programme in Youth Services from 50 weeks to 40 weeks, there is little detail as to the effects this will have on the young people who rely on this service and again there is no detail provided as to the unintentional consequences of this action.

Many residents have spoken to me about the proposal to charge for the green waste collection and there is scant detail on this proposal around how this will be monitored, what will happen should the numbers of green bins be returned and what are the costings regarding a less than expected take up of this service charging for green waste collection and reducing the number of recycling parks in the county; It will result in fly tipping. It will hit the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Reducing the highways maintenance budget: It will increase road accidents and safety and in particular during bad weather conditions i.e. ice and snow

In summing up the response to your document “Cutting the Cloth” I would hope that you have used Equality Impact Assessments for managing social risk. Looking at the proposed cuts I wonder how innovative your Authority has been in your priority setting taking into account the protection of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

I realise the difficulty of making cuts due to Westminster’s savage cuts to Welsh Government having a knock on effect to you as a Local Authority which begs the question in your haste, have you based the cuts driven by compliance with statutory requirements arising from equalities legislation rather than being based on needs?

There needs to be more detail issued to include the full impact assessment, the equality impact assessment and the cost benefit analysis before the council can proceed with its budget setting process.
The meaningless information provided to date needs urgent review and the consultation process extended to include public sessions within communities before the authority can be satisfied that it has consulted with its residents and council tax payers.

There should be a greater emphasis on corporate savings within the authority before turning to the service areas.