Carmarthenshire County Museum at risk in council cutbacks
CARMARTHEN'S county museum could be closed as part of the council's dramatic bid to cut costs.
Carmarthenshire Council needs to save at least £8.5 million this year and the possible closure of the museum is one of the tough decisions councillors face.
The museum, a former palace of the Bishop of St David's that has been in use since 1290, was described this week as a "jewel in the crown" of the county.
Deputy council leader Kevin Madge said it was one of the most difficult budgets in his 25 years as a councillor.
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The Labour group leader added: "We are not ruling anything in and we are not ruling anything out. There will have to be a critical debate within the political groups, within the council and in the public generally."
The closure of the museums at Abergwili and at Parc Howard in Llanelli have been proposed by council officers as a way of saving £150,000. It would mean the loss of six jobs.
In the budget report, they state it "will require an urgent decision in order to implement before next April".
Next year's budget is now being scrutinised by councillors and it is not certain they will accept the suggestion. But all the savings suggested need to be made or replaced with cuts elsewhere if the increase in council tax is to be kept to four per cent — about £7 extra for a family in a Band D property.
Council leaders have suggested they want to keep the council tax increase down to two per cent.
To deliver its share of the extra savings that would require, the education department, which is responsible for the museums, might have to find another £900,000.
The museum does have supporters at the council.
As the regeneration and leisure committee examined that department's budget for the coming year — and discussed charging schools for using county swimming pools — Councillor Terry Davies said the museum already looked "closed up".
He wanted the council to spend money improving it.
"I hope we can do some more work to make it look better," he said. "It's the jewel in the crown. It's a wonderful building and there's an opportunity to do something very special."
Carmarthen Civic Society chairman Arwyn Davies told the Journal: "I can appreciate why the council has listed it for possible closure, the museum needs a lot of maintenance work done.
"However, while the civic society has not discussed this matter yet, we would not want to see it close and lose it from the town. It is one of Carmarthen's main civic attractions and should be preserved."
The council's budgets are coming under pressure from below inflation increases in Government money and social care cost increases the authority's chief executive Mark James has likened to a "runaway train".
Independent councillor Clive Scourfield, executive board member for regeneration, said the council's leadership knew how important the museums were to the people of Carmarthenshire, but they had to look at all options.
"I think it is important we do everything in our power to keep them open, but we have to look at whether we can afford them, especially with the pressures on the social services budget," he said.
And as the cost-cutting continues over the next three years, the effect on other services could include cutting staff at a centre for protected children in Carmarthenshire, upping school meal prices by 7.5 per cent, cutting the number of youth clubs, ending council management of Gelli Aur Country Park, reducing street cleaning and road maintenance, removing transport for pupils over 16 and bringing in car park charging for disabled drivers.
One possibility identified for 2014-15 is closing a respite home to save £373,000.
Officers said this could mean the loss of 17 jobs and ending respite care for up to 30 children with disabilities.
Councillor Peter Hughes Griffiths, leader of the opposition Plaid group, accused council leaders of "poor" planning and excluding them from the decision making.
He said: "If we are now reaching a severe cuts situation, as suggested in a report to the Independent and Labour controlled executive board on Carmarthenshire Council, one has to challenge the lack of forward planning by the present administration."