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The truths they don't want you to read....

Monday, June 07, 2010

Council cuts - the latest

As the Councillors gather this week for the Committee meetings, word reaches me that the forecast cuts are even deeper than we originally thought, and that the Council is recognising the severity, extent and prolonged nature of the likely reduction in expenditure.

There is - of course - a blame game to be played between Westminster, Holyrood and the global economic climate, but none of that cuts the mustard with the planned impact on the Comhairle.

I am told by a well-placed source that future budgets are to be set on the assumption of a 25% cut in expenditure over the next 5 years.

That is about £25m off a £100m budget, or just under 5% pa, and represent an enormous axe to be wielded, and can only have devastating effects on the public sector, regardless of how it is managed.

Make no mistake, cuts of that magnitude go way beyond cutting out the fat and the extras built into budgets, and will impact directly on front-line services. I don't just mean staffing cuts, but also a reduction in service hours and increases in costs to try to bridge the gap.

As some costs are effectively fixed - for instance, it is effectively impossible to sack teachers - the cuts are going to have to fall over a subsection of the services delivered, meaning some sections are going to have to be closed whilst others will face enormous reductions.

If the Councillors want the public to understand and support the difficult choices, then there needs to be an open debate about the options facing the Council. We won't all agree with the all the choices made, but at least the public might start to appreciate the complexity and onerous nature of the decisions. And might just appreciate that the cuts are being driven at Governmental level and are not some made decision of the White House.

As more information become available I will keep you informed.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two points.

1. Cut - entirely - Arts, Gaelic, pseudo-cultural and other 'hobby' funding. These don't save lives, add to a (useful) education, or get the vulnerable fed. There's a large sector of people supported off grant and similar funding to pursue what is, in essence, their personal hobbies as a career. They need to - themselves - find their own private sector or other commercial funding.

2. Outer Hebrides charities are loaded. Here's the database. Select Western Isles as the local authority and 'search all'. Then click the income header twice to display in order of income/funds in the kitty. That's a hell of a lot of money held by charities - guessing many times more than any other community of 25,000 people in the UK. Some is being put to good community effect, other seems to be just sitting there. The (many) local churches alone are sitting on several million pounds in their bank accounts.

Just saying.

Donald S said...

Very misleading and cynical 9.42am. The OSCR pages shows total income in the year which is not the same as an amount sitting in a bank account doing nothing but gain interest.

For example, the Stornoway League of Friends show annual income of £87k. Having been a volunteer with this caring organisation in the past I can assure everybody that every penny earned in income is spent wisely and towards the greater good of the Western Isles. I can also say the same for Crossroads which is another wonderful caring organisation. I'm sure the other charities are also doing worthwhile deeds and remember they have submitted audited accounts to OSCR.

Are we to critise charities for providing a good service and also keeping good financial controls?

Perhaps the Comhairle and Health Board could learn something from these charities!

Anonymous said...

Charities information reflects the income in the last year for which accounts have been submitted to OSCR & not the balance held in their accounts.

Anonymous said...

Re - 9.42

While it may be true that what you insultingly call 'pseudo-cultural' funding does not literally save lives, it does much to transform them. The ability to live a fulfilled and whole existence depends on making the most of people's talents, especially those of the young. The alternative is sometimes a grim descent into a life based on substance abuse.

I would also like to point out that the Arts and Gaelic are probably among the best income-generators for those living in the islands. Both Gaelic and the creative industries bring people and other forms of employment to the Western Isles. They are attracted there sometimes by music or literature, its distinctive language - both in terms of tourism and longer term residence. Even the light of the islands has made the islands a home to artists and photographers, bringing life and enterprise to communities that might otherwise be empty of people.

If anything is needed, it's co-ordinated thinking to make sure that we make the most of these advantages. (I despair, for instance, of An Lanntair, which seems to have little or no connection with the community around it, espousing an elitist, incomers' view of art.) If we do not do this, we will soon be turned into an island version of a backwater like Caithness with nothing to show for itself but an endless series of chips on its shoulders.

In short, 9.42, if you want to turn these islands into a periphery filled with old folks' homes, continue with your agenda. I think the Arts over the last few years have been one of the few Hebridean success stories.

PS - One of the problems with the islands is the lack of any proper forum for a meaningful debate. I don't expect the Gazette to provide it!

Anonymous said...

9.42

I have to say that the numerous times I have visited the islands has been because of the language.

Hairy McLairy said...

I think the councillors should focus on what they can actually deliver - short of legislative change, their hands are tied on quite a lot of areas.

So, what should go? Anything to do with the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership, which is a waste of time. Cut half the staff in Committee Services and hold half the Council meetings. Cancel any travel to the mainland not directly connected with actual, real work (i.e. most of it). Do the work by phone instead.

Get rid of the staff canteen and all of the councillors' dinners. Use the space for offices, move staff in from their comfortable cubby-holes in town, sell or end the leases on the offices. Charge the staff £10/year each for free parking at the White House. Reduce the number of Directors to 3 like Orkney.

I waive my fee for this consultancy work.

Dr Evadne said...

There are many more non-jobs and many CNES staff simply not doing the job they are paid to do or are not capable of doing it in the first place. And what is going on in Percival Square? Then there's the bailing out of the Bridge centre (who put in the crap heating system?) And why are the Comhairle trying to scrape together £30K to save the bogs when some councillors have spent that feeding their fat faces or swanning around exec lounges at international airports?

I have heard via various people who can't keep their north & south shut after a few beers that the COU are destined for the knackers yard. Shurely this can't be true?
Sheesh...what's to become of us?!

Anonymous said...

3:52:

In short, 9.42, if you want to turn these islands into a periphery filled with old folks' homes, continue with your agenda. I think the Arts over the last few years have been one of the few Hebridean success stories.

Um, the islands are already a periphery filled with old folks' homes. The pipeline of funding for the arts and culture hasn't generally benefitted the communities.

It has, however, benefitted many individuals. At the last arts event I had to endure for political reasons, it was noticeable that nearly all of the local artists were of advanced middle age, or elderly. I'm not ageist, but if you're serious about sustaining the islands, then what funding there will be left - if any! - after essential services are paid for should go to sustainable business sectors attractive to people of child-bearing age.

As for Gaelic - if people honestly believe strongly in it, then they don't need grants to sustain it. Use it, read it, learn it. If I want to learn, dunno, origami, I don't need to start filling in grant forms for thousands of pounds of taxpayers money. While some people are genuine about Gaelic, and don't need large quantities of cash in order to learn and promote it, others can't seem to lift a finger without a large cheque of taxpayers money coming through the mail first.

Anonymous said...

SEPA- this organisation costs the entire country millions in taxes and charges for producing ludicrous rules, regulations and licenses. It is the ultimate in empire building- I have yet to meet anyone in the real world who will mourn its demise.

Then we can start on council planning departments.

Anonymous said...

A serious post deserves a more serious response than the ill informed comments of 9.42. If local charities really do have such vast quantities of money then they deserve to be 'named and shamed'. It could be that fixed assets such as the estimated insurance costs of buildings etc., which must be declared on OSCR returns, are being misleadingly mistaken for 'several millions pounds in their bank accounts'. Any church with that amount of spare cash doesn't deserve to be protected. A casual reading of their publicly available accounts makes it plain that their charitable benevolence, financial and in terms of real hands on service, is far greater than they're ever given credit for.

Anonymous said...

nothing to show for itself but an endless series of chips on its shoulders

dont you go out - thats what we have already

Anonymous said...

There's 325(!!) charities in the Western Isles section of that website. Which, for a bunch of islands with the same population as a small English market town, is pretty amazing.

Anonymous said...

9:42 Loaded?! Hardley! Are you sure you looked beyond that first page? many show their bank balances as 0 or less. a pattern of good profits does show for those owned and run by the council...make of that what you will

Anonymous said...

Re - 3.52

You ain't seen nothing yet!

If something isn't done to revitalise the community, this process will continue and get worse. The chips on the shoulder, which provides so much of the Nationalist vote, will become ever more pronounced. ('Why do the English keep picking on us?' should be on a sign greeting those who arrive on the ferry.) The Arts have provided a means to alter this. From musicians like Alastair Whyte, Alyth, Julie Fowlis, the Boy Who Trapped The Sun, Run Rig etc to writers like Kevin MacNeil, even photographers like Murdo Macleod, they have shown you can build upon your Hebridean identity and be succesful - sometimes in national and UK terms.

And your solution is to tear it all up? On the basis of one 'arts event you had to endure'? Come off it. Such people as the above help - as 4.04 has stated - to bring visitors and their money here. It may be partly our distinctive language and arts that help eventually to ensure a 'sustainable business sector' is drawn to these islands.It is certainly the case that the carping, criticism and negativity of certain people in the Hebrides does much to drive them away.

Time to grow up - and stop whinging!

Anonymous said...

The Arts have provided a means to alter this. From musicians like Alastair Whyte, Alyth, Julie Fowlis, the Boy Who Trapped The Sun, Run Rig etc to writers like Kevin MacNeil, even photographers like Murdo Macleod, they have shown you can build upon your Hebridean identity and be succesful - sometimes in national and UK terms.

Such people as the above help - as 4.04 has stated - to bring visitors and their money here.

If this/they are successful, and they bring visitors (notice you didn't say 'residents') here, then why is the population still declining and the demographics looking bad? Years of heavy investment in the local arts have not helped the islands. Why do you think it's going to miraculously change now?

Anonymous said...

Maybe allowing the place to evolve and giving people opportunities would help stop the decline.

Anonymous said...

Re - 4.53

But visitors also bring in wealth to the community and increase its prosperity. Surely that helps everyone living in the area. Do you not believe tourism plays an important role in the island economy? Or that some of these people may - in their own way - be ambassadors for the island?

The Western Isles also gets considerable investment in terms of the media presence generated by Gaelic TV and Radio. This creates jobs, wealth etc. (This causes considerable jealousy in areas like Orkney and Shetland, who are without such 'advantages' - though they have other strengths and benefits.)

My own view is that without the linguistic and cultural aspects that the Western Isles draws upon that the demographic drop would be far worse than it is at present - bad enough as it is. Where is your evidence that these things are drawbacks rather than strengths?

I think it's about time it was revealed.

Anonymous said...

Think it's amazing that the churches in the islands had a combined income of approx £3m.

Anonymous said...

9:47 Quite. Works out at an average of roughly £150 per adult resident. Poor islands?

Anonymous said...

The COU is corrupt riddled with vested interest from suppliers and sub contractors.

Planning - see fag paper its think of a price and double it.

CnES could save most of its needed cuts by ridding its self of this utter wasteful and bent organisation.