The campaigning has begun and the rows have already started between Plaid Cymru and Labour – both determined to get control of Caerphilly County Borough Council.
In the opening salvo, Plaid have accused Labour of wasting public funds by spending £20.6 million on agency staff over the last five years.
Meanwhile, the Caerphilly Labour group has hit out over “uncosted” pledges made by Plaid Cymru.
According to figures released to Plaid Cymru under the Freedom of Information Act, £3.9m was spent between April last year and January this year.
Cllr Colin Mann, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, said: “Caerphilly Council under Labour has been spending almost £80,000 every single week on agency staff – and it has significantly increased by one third since they took over the administration in 2012. In the last year of the Plaid Cymru administration just over £3m was spent.
“Employing agency staff is an expensive way of doing business. There will always be need for temporary support but costs have risen to more than £4m a year.
“If a Plaid Cymru administration is elected following the elections on May 4, we will carry out a review of the spending on agency staff to look at the opportunities to reduce this bill.
“At the same time agency staff have been employed, many hundreds of people have been taken off the council payroll in the last few years.”
Labour hit back at the claims stating that Caerphilly’s expenditure was far lower than that of other similar-sized councils.
A Labour group spokesman said most of the council’s agency expenditure was for staff employed as part of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard programme.
He said: “We are halfway through a £210 million council housing stock improvement initiative. At the same time, in the wider local economy, house building activity has increased after the housing recession.
“This has meant there’s a premium on availability of skilled tradespeople such as plumbers, bricklayers etc.
“Other agency staff are employed on refuse and cleansing to cover for permanent staff absences. Caerphilly County Borough Council’s agency expenditure is far lower than that of other similar-sized councils.
“So, yet again, our Labour-led Caerphilly Council is demonstrating prudent financial management. Once again Plaid Cymru are demonstrating their desperation in lashing out with unfounded criticisms.
“Voters in Caerphilly County Borough know we’re all better off with Labour.”
Plaid’s seven pledges come under scrutiny
While Labour is pointing to its record over the last five years in power, Plaid Cymru has made seven pledges for voters to consider.
Labour has highlighted low council tax increases, investment in libraries, boosts to the budgets of social services and education and the protection of council services all in the face of huge cuts made by the UK Government.
Plaid have promised more money for roads, tougher enforcement for fly-tipping and dog fouling offences, resistance to developers building on greenfield sites and employing traffic wardens.
Labour’s deputy leader Cllr David Poole said: “We’re bemused by Plaid’s ‘pledges’ because all Caerphilly councillors are aware that our council must make a further £29m savings over the next four years.
“So if the Nationalists’ were elected to control Caerphilly Council in May, to keep their pledge to employ more enforcement officers, would they make existing council staff redundant, to balance the budget? Or would they cut current council services?”
A Labour group spokesperson said: “Plaid’s sums don’t add up – their ‘pledges’ are empty promises. Yet again we can see that Plaid Cymru are clueless. Caerphilly residents deserve responsible Council leadership. We’re all better off with Labour.”
Councillor Colin Mann, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, said: “The last five years under Labour have been disastrous for people with mismanagement, rising council tax bills and a significant deterioration in services to the public.
“The public has told us what improvements they want to see and our pledges reflect that. They tell us they don’t feel they’re getting value for money for their council tax and point to real concerns over litter, fly-tipping, dog mess and our roads and pavements.
“They feel the public fabric of the county borough has been allowed to deteriorate while millions of pounds have been wasted on Labour’s senior officers’ pay debacle.
“If a Plaid Cymru administration is elected in May, we will ensure that top officers will never get huge pay rises while the pay of the ordinary council worker is held down.
“Voters have a choice between an out-of-touch Labour administration which has neglected them and a Plaid Cymru group that is determined to deliver improvements in public services. No other political party is represented on the authority, so if people want to get rid of Labour a vote for Plaid Cymru is the only alternative.”