Readers' views: Council cuts process a cause for alarm
WE face £30m worth of cuts to council services and hundreds of job losses in Carmarthenshire over the next three years. That is a truly frightening prospect in itself.
But the way in which the county council has gone about "identifying savings" is cause for added alarm — if last week's seminar at Llanelli's Ffwrnes theatre is anything to go by.
"Participants included county councillors, trade union representatives, the local media and businesses," proclaimed the council.
Sounds good. But what happened? The few selected journalists present were not allowed to take notes; a Unison representative was asked to leave because his presence might "unnerve" councillors discussing sacking low-paid staff; one bemused business representative said he wasn't sure why he was there; only half the Labour and Independent councillors turned up; and the 28-strong Plaid Cymru group boycotted the event because the Labour-Independent regime, which controls the council with a Putinesque grip, had rejected a "rainbow coalition" to deal with the cut-backs.
As one of the five Plaid members present as observers, a hostile and determined effort was made by Labour and Independent members to have me thrown out.
I insisted on staying, and witnessed the opening farce at the Ffwrnes turning into a tragedy for the people of Carmarthenshire.
It became obvious that much of the £30m the county council intends "saving" will come out of the pockets of parents and school budgets, motorists and bus passengers, taxpayers and almost all who use the county's services.
My invitation to the event stated: "As it is a seminar, it is of course not a decision making meeting."
Yet, during the next couple of hours the other people on my table voted, by show of hands, that all but one of the 52 proposed cut-backs handed down by chief officers should to go out to public consultation.
A similar process happened on the other six tables, with non-elected business people and members of the press also taking part.
Never, in over 30 years in my previous career as a journalist, did I witness such a travesty of the democratic system.
Quite apart from the nature of the meeting itself, people were presented — for the first time — with a massive tranche of cut-back proposals and given just three hours to discuss and vote on them. If this seminar was not a "decision making meeting", why were votes held? If those votes are given weight, then under what authority?
It is bad enough that we in Carmarthenshire face devastating cut-backs in services and substantial hikes in taxes and other payments, but if this rubber-stamping of £30m worth of cuts in just three hours by a hotch-botch of delegates in a Llanelli theatre is the foundation for future consultation, that future looks very grim indeed.
Councillor Alun Lenny