Caerphilly County Borough Council has a new leader. He is Councillor Allan Pritchard from Oakdale. He is a councillor of experience and is a long standing member of Plaid Cymru. He becomes the Leader of the Council at a difficult time. Central Government cuts are making their way down the M4 and although the Welsh Government is doing its best to protect Wales, the public spending cuts heading our way are like a tsunami.
What is the response of the council to this impending onslaught? So far, all the indications are that the council’s over-riding priority is not to introduce any increase in the council tax. This is the mantra which the Nationalists are placing at the centre of the council’s message to the public. It is the same message which we hear nationally from the Tories and their little helpers, the Lib-Dems.
But what are the measures which are being taken by the council to make this mantra possible? As far as I can see, there are three policies being pursued by the council. Firstly, the council are making real cuts, often discreetly, but nevertheless, very real. The council’s workforce is being reduced and the authority is therefore contributing to the already high level of unemployment in the borough. Secondly, the council are introducing regressive stealth charges. Examples of this are the decision to introduce charges for the replacement of wheelie-bins and the collection of large household items, which has led directly to a dramatic increase in fly-tipping. Then there is the increase in funeral charges and the still planned for increase in park and ride parking charges. Thirdly, the council is dipping into its financial reserves. The council’s financial position has been made worse by its unwise investment in the Icelandic Banks. To date, only a fraction of the money which the council invested has been retrieved.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that the tactic of the council is, at best, crudely populist and at worst, thoroughly misleading. If Plaid Cymru go into next year’s council election promising not to introduce any increase at all in the council tax, while saying they will protect services, then they will be guilty of wilful deception. If Plaid win next year, the people of the borough will face massive cuts in their services, extra charges and even the possibility of large scale redundancies in the authority’s workforce.
Councillor Allan Pritchard ought to remember the first rule of politics, ‘honesty is always the best policy’.
Labour MP for Caerphilly
Response by Councillor Allan Pritchard
“I will be happy and proud to present Plaid’s record to the electorate of Caerphilly County Borough next year. Council tax rises have been almost £100 lower under this Plaid-led administration than the previous Labour one. The council now has the best recycling rates in South Wales, we are creating 150 training and apprenticeships and have frozen councillors’ allowances since we were elected in 2008.
“While some charges have inevitably risen you only pay if you use those services while the freeze on council tax affects every single household in the county borough every year.
“This Plaid administration has balanced our accounts each year. Our reserves are healthier now than when Labour was rejected at the last council elections. Unlike neighbouring Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taf council, we have not cut the pay of employees by up to 40 per cent.
“We are managing the savage cuts that have been forced upon us by central government in a responsible way. Perhaps, Wayne David might wish to take a leaf out of our book on how to manage our business and invite some of his nearby Labour leaders to see how a well managed authority is run. But don’’t take it from me – just – listen to the people. Public satisfaction with the way the council operates has risen considerably, according to a recent household survey.”