Politics and council budgets – the Walsh stratagem

Council Leader Dick Walsh has, on the back of a massive majority of 27-9, secured the necessary support for his wish to take two full years to develop his financial strategy.

In the meantime, Argyll will see a ‘preserve and prepare’ budget for 2014-15 and 2015-16 – meaning that there will  be minimal cuts of 1% per annum for two years, during which time Argyll folk will  need to brace themselves for the very serious cuts which will follow. The 1% savings are to be achieved by efficiency savings that do not have policy implications.

The modest 1% cuts are to be applied to all budgets apart from PPP/NPDO [the methods of funding infrastructural products from private sources], landfill tax, loan charges, insurance, historic pensions costs and NDR payments.

Policy Leads and Heads of Service will review the base budget, inflation and cost and demand pressures with a report back on revised budgets for these as part of the December budget outlook.

The caveat is: ‘ If any savings proposals have policy implications they will be put to council in advance for consideration.’

This is in fact a bizarre development in which the decisions on where to make the 1% per annum cuts agreed for the next two years are effectively being passed to council officers to make.

Asked for his views on this move, former Council Leader Robb says: ‘Shifting that responsibility to officers with no scrutiny or approval by councillors is one of the strangest decisions ever taken.

‘It is not the kind of response Audit Scotland would expect to its concerns over the existing council leadership, governance and culture.

‘It is a complete abdication of our responsibilities as the elected representatives of the communities, families and staff that will be hurt by these cuts.’

So what is the Walsh stratagem?

You would think from the two year moratorium agreed on developing a budget strategy that Council Leader Walsh was a nervous novice at striking a budget and developing a financial strategy. Not.

He has more experience in dong this than the rest of the entire chamber since during his administrations, he has kept financial controls as his own prerogative.

Why so tentative now, then?

His strategy of relative jam today and heavy duty penance tomorrow, ironically, is only possible because the doomed SNP-led administration set a brave financial strategy to take hard decisions on budget cuts early; and take to calmer water later.

Whatever people say of Councillor Robb who, at the financial helm throughout the three short lived SNP administrations [and Dunoon will never forgive him for his (revoked) decision to close its Struan Ldge care home on the grounds of cost and underusage] – he did not lack political courage.

But now Councllor Walsh is to coast for two years while he supposedly takes so astonishingly long a period to make up his mind about what to do with the budget.

This is likely to be about gaining strategic advantage. How?

First – arms length execution of spending cuts means greater deniability for the Council Leader.

Then – and obviously – this moratorium gives him two years to court favour with the electorate, with modest spending cuts for which he is not even himself responsible. He does have considerable ground to make up with an electorate that had grow to distrust him.

Then comes the third political advantage  from his strategy.

Two years of very modest cuts takes us to the start of the 2016-17 financial year which, should Scotland vote Yes to independence, would also be the start of Scotland flying solo.

Councillor Walsh’s strategy would see hard spending cuts bite into Argyll at that point.

Is he hoping that a new Scottish Government would be sufficiently horrified by the likely attribution of responsibility for this financial pain to a newly independent Scotland that it would bail him out – which would see his group of independents sail gleefully into the 2017 local authority elections, whether or not he decides to run again himself?

And is he also planning this timing to sabotage a potential independence after the fact?

One way or the other, Councillor Walsh does not need two years to get a budget strategy sorted. If he does, he ought not to be leading the council.

The SNP-led administration may have been managed, manipulated and mangled from without by its own party hierarchy and internally may have behaved badly on its own account, bequeathing Argyll the most chaotic period of local government it has experienced, with the arguable exception of the school wars of 2010-11.

However, it cannot be said, at its outset anyway, to have lacked courage in confronting earlier rather than later the spending reduction required of it by the Scottish Government.

Councillor Walsh’s 1% per annum cut adds up to around £1.9 million for each of the years in question – a total of £3.8 million. Of this, funding the redundancy payments in staffing losses are expected to account for £1.12 million.

The Chief Financial Officer’s report in February 2013 estimated that 73 FTE jobs or job opportunities [unfilled vacancies] will be lost in these cuts – and the actual number will be higher if part time posts are lost.There is no current provision for severance costs – which, at £1.12, will soak up almost 30% [29.47%] of the £3.8 savings made.

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25 Responses to Politics and council budgets – the Walsh stratagem

  1. All council decsions were taken by all councillors under the SNP. That inclusive accountable democracy is being abolished by Councillor Walsh. How can councillors who always want to know which of their friends or neighbours may lose their jobs from council cuts can accept this? “Sorry pal, it was the officers fault, nothing to do with me.” Why elect councillors who can’t take the difficult decsions?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 5

    • If Scotland votes no next year the block grant will be cut by £4bn. That is generally accepted by all the political parties. Councillor Walsh’s tactic then has a fatal flaw: in 2016-17 the effect for Argyll & Bute Council will be to raise the cuts required from £35m to £60m. Will all of Councillor Walsh’s faithful followers still be saying “I agree with Dick?”

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 4

  2. The council has filled 180 odd posts since March how does that work in the service reviews and so called budget cuts.
    If the officers are in charge of the ship what would we save by getting rid of the councillors?
    Will the council implement the the necessary improvements for the care of our elderly across Argyll ?
    Will the council bring forward there plans for primary provision across Argyll?
    Two very important areas which in the officers have certainly been found wanting in recent times.
    Obviously with the councillors not taking responsibility for these decisions they will be returning some of the money they receive as lead councillors etc.
    The SNP were a shambles now we get lumbered with Walsh and co. who along with there pet officers will finish Argyll for good .
    Never mind as long as you are related to one of the top brass you will get a job.
    So much for cutbacks.
    Cheers Neil.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 7

    • It is too general to assume that if a council is faced with cuts it shouldn’t be filling vacant posts. Post cutting should be based on proper workforce planning which reflects the old adage of having the right people with the right skills at the right time. Councils who opened up redundancy options to all without a thought for future needs were acting irresponsibly. A council can’t be afraid to appoint people purely because cuts are required.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 8

  3. Connected again.
    Many of us feel that Dick tricked us on this. He didn’t tell us about the 73 redundancies, the million pounds in redundancy payments, the front line service cuts or the damage to our communities. There are scores being settled but James Robb put up an amendment that made sense. We should have accepted it.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 11

      • Copycat, Breezy is certainly not James Robb and does not come from the Oban area. He is a Bute & Cowal councilor who was happy to believe everything that Walsh tells him without question.

        When are these guys going to realise that they are responsible for their own decisions and cannot blame Walsh or anyone else. If they cannot work out some simple figures for themselves, then they should not be in the job.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

        • Harty, if you are correct in saying that Breezy is an Argyll & Bute councillor, then can I express my astonishment that one of our elected representatives posts here under a pseudonym without routinely declaring who he is. Indeed, I wonder whether writing anonymously to a forum like this is strictly within the national Code of Conduct that Councillors are obliged to follow.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

        • Harty

          Thanks – It would be helpful if the elected councillor declared who they were. Do you think they know? MacNaughton , Marshall comes to mind?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

          • Councillors in area
            Bruce Marshall
            Alex McNaughton
            William Gordon Blair
            Scottish Nationalist Party
            James McQueen
            Michael Breslin
            Dick Walsh
            Isle of Bute
            Len Scoullar
            Robert MacIntyre
            Isobel Strong
            Scottish National Party

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. The problem is that almost anyone can stand for election, with or without any qualifications or literacy skills – which also seems to apply to MSPs.
    All they need to do pre election is talk the talk – being unable to walk the walk doesn’t become obvious until it is too late.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 8

  5. The Argyll & Bute for Change Group did promise a joint leadership. It is not too late and I agree with Breezy. He is probably afraid to raise it Councillor Walsh as he would get thrown out.
    The leadership should be all three group leaders – Morton, MacIntyre and Taylor. Each is leader in rotation for 3 months so they al get paid equally but they jointly take decisions. The other two are deputes if not leader.
    The council can’t get out of its current troubles if Dick Walsh is in charge and dragging it down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  6. Keep faith folks there is a large bright Eastern star shining down on Kilmory hopefully big Sally will see the light and her and Dick will head of to pastures new.
    With the information the councillors have all received about Castle Toward it should be very interesting to hear there personal take on the whole sorry affair. The silence so far on this from them is certainly not golden.
    It will certainly not go away so it’s time for them to come clean or face the consequences.
    As for the SNP things are not happy in the camp and with every resignation from loyal followers the penny has obviously dropped about the shambles that has been left by Russell actions.
    Cheers Neil.
    PS. Good meetings in Oban this week go along to hear how our new leader Councillor MacDougall
    Intends to bring Oban and the Isles out of the wilderness..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

    • I’d love to believe you Neil but Labour hasn’t managed to do anything of the sort to date. Mind you, I suppose this is the season for small miracles.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

    • using your own xmas analogies, are we not short three wise persons?? Quote from above “Councillor MacDougall
      Intends to bring Oban and the Isles out of the wilderness..” ie somebody else to join those already self elected “what’s in it for me” gang?? get real! Bring on Wetherspoons!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. Surely Russell has learned his lesson when he drafted in his helper from the central belt in place of a local candidate?

    No truth that Cllr McCuish and others have seen the light and want to return to the snp fold — before the next election, as long as the previous leader leaves?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  8. I think Argyll and Bute Council should be disbanded as dysfunctional this includes elected and senior council officials.
    Suggest as previous posters in the past have said that parts are subsumed into other areas eg Lomond to West Dunbartonshire, Bute link with Cumbrae and North Ayrshire or Inverclyde, the other Islands ?
    With Walsh fighting with some of his officials to keep others at bay –(- is it right he had a meeting with 5 of his closest allies out of 20 + to keep everyone silent on Toward?) his colleagues supporting him should hang their heads in shame if they know what it is.

    Our MSP’s must cross party agree that ABC is not working and call for urgent action

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

    • Such a move would have a devastating effect on local economies. It would be the nail in the coffin for many local businesses and consequently small rural villages.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  9. I love it H but Roddy will not be returning to the SNP although there are certainly plenty members in Oban who would love to see him back.
    As for poor Louise she has not been seen or heard for ages so the SNP are a spent force in the town.
    Funny how lies can come back and haunt you and now that e-mails seem to be the order of the day it might be that Santa will deliver a surprise or two through FA. But you can be sure the message will be the same for everyone.
    Cheers Neil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

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