Who should decide the cuts?

The debate on council cuts in Wales has moved on.

It's no longer about why the cuts are being imposed, everyone is well aware of the arguments around austerity.

And it's no longer about local authorities versus health - most people are aware of the acute pressure the NHS is under which has made it politically impossible for the Welsh government not to push extra money in the direction of health.

The debate now is about who is best placed to decide which council services should be cut.

On the face of it, councils themselves are the ones making these decisions.

Not so, they say, because of various conditions the Welsh government is imposing on their budgets.

Take education. Carwyn Jones has made a commitment to increase spending on schools so councils who are facing overall cuts of more than 3% cannot touch one of the biggest budgets of the lot. In fact the budget for schools has to increase slightly. Something similar has happened with social care, another of the services which councils are legally obliged to provide.

It is the Welsh government dictating where the money should go.


The leader of Gwynedd Council, Dyfed Edwards, believes savings could be found in the schools budget without affecting the quality of provision and it should be looked at.

He says not doing so will lead to too much pressure on other spending areas.

The Welsh Local Government Association says council leaders know their communities better than Welsh government ministers and they should be given the freedom to cut exactly where they feel is most appropriate.

The problem is that education is the responsibility of the Welsh government, and as a result a big commitment on spending in schools can't be left to the individual judgement of 22 council leaders.

In the medium to long run, some of the council leaders have been questioning the validity of protecting school budgets in this way.

Very careful

The Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews has given some clarification saying that councils can look at the administration costs within their education budgets but they have to be "very careful" that the money is passed on to schools.

Leighton Andrews' reputation as a bruiser preceded his appointment as the Welsh government minister responsible for councils.

We've seen glimpses of this, notably his criticism of the levels of reserves which some local authorities hold.

This drew a predictably irritated response from council leaders, claiming that most of that money has been earmarked for specific purposes and is not sitting there for a raining day.


But on the whole he has struck a diplomatic tone. On Good Morning Wales, he told Oliver Hides: "We have got to give councils the opportunity over the next few weeks to look at what they can do, what they need to do within their own locality.

"We are very far from that point of having to name or shame anybody.

"They have really difficult choices to make and we understand that."

And one final point. Council leaders have been giving grim warnings about the impact on services for a number of years now, and yet it's fair to say that most people's leisure centres have not closed down.

They respond by saying that we're approaching the business end of the council cuts and the moment will soon arrive when the cuts to council services will become apparent to all.

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