Saturday, March 15, 2014

Labour Council lost the plot over childcare

Whilst the Labour party at UK and Wales level are desperately trying to convince people that they understand the problems associated with childcare and want to do something positive about it then RCT Labour seem to have lost the plot.

Miliband is banging on about introducing free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, over and above what the coalition has actually made available which is 15 hrs a week free.

We can, allegedly, trust them to understand the problems and the benefits that good quality childcare bring to the economy as well as to individuals. 

In Wales childcare costs are rocketing and the Welsh Labour Government are as usual insisting they are on the case.  Their Flying Start programme which gives 12.5 hrs a week free childcare to 2 to 3 year olds in the most deprived areas is proof that they care and are committed to better provision they say. The fact that this provision is in no way dependent upon whether the parents of the children are working or in training and so no really providing a solution for working parents seems to have passed them by.

Here in RCT of course the Council have their own solution, no doubt designed to help them meet their manifesto commitments to ensure “the demand for improved services is balanced with affordable Council Tax levels,” “ensure fairness, equality in the delivery of services, promoting progress towards greater social justice and the need for sustainable communities” and of course “focus on delivering better outcomes for local communities and continue to ensure a cost effective operation and delivery of Council functions and services.”

They are suggesting that childcare costs in RCT run nurseries increase by 7.3% to more than £44 a day. Now isn’t that helpful? This at a time when there will potentially be greater demand because of their decision regarding the cutting of nursery education. (A decision that is of course currently on hold pending a possible judicial review.)

It doesn’t stop there, however.  RCT Officers are busy converting some of their day Nurseries into pure Flying Start centres which will not offer general childcare to anyone not part of that programme.  They have even been actively encouraging private Day Nurseries to go down the same route.

It is yet more evidence of the complete lack of joined up thinking in RCT at both Member and Officer level.  There is no innovation and absolutely no idea of what they need to do in order to make any economic progress and move certain areas up through the deprivation ranks.

There is no political drive or control even.  Labour Members are content to simply pick up their salaries and accept the recommendations of Officers. This was clearly seen during the budget setting process when the information they were making decisions on was woefully inadequate.  It is even more clearly exhibited by checking their manifesto against their delivery. 

What hope is there for the future of RCT when there is so little in the way of leadership?

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Councillors, Common Sense and Miscommunication

Every now and again someone will randomly come up with the idea that there should be a minimum qualification level for Councillors.  Now I am not a supporter of that idea at all, it is undemocratic and illiberal, and besides having a piece of paper which says you have x number of qualifications is not by any means a guarantee that you would be any good at the job.

However, the public surely have a right to expect a certain element of common sense, willingness to learn and an ability to grasp some of the complexities involved in running an organisation of the size and diversity of a County Council.

They certainly have a right to expect that information coming from them will be correct.  There is nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know the answer to a particular question or that you need to find out, but actually misleading the public by putting incorrect facts in the public domain helps nobody.

Take for instance a piece that appeared in the February issue of the District Diary, a free magazine that is delivered in the Talbot Green / Pontyclun and surrounding areas.  It is from the two Labour Councillors for the Pontyclun ward.  It talks of the cuts the Council are imposing and states:

“If RCT Council is to protect expenditure on 5-16 schooling and social care for the most vulnerable children and adults then the UK Government’s funding cuts mean that 50% of every other service must be cut.”

Where on earth has this come from?  It is absolute nonsense.  Yes savings have to be made and the budget has been cut, but half of everything except schools and social care?  Such misinformation is hardly helpful and it is worrying that decisions are being made when members of the ruling group obviously do not understand what they are dealing with.

Still, in a situation where backbench Labour members hardly ever speak in the Chamber and Cabinet Members have their scripts carefully written for them by Officers then the opportunities for learning are few and far between.

When they do speak they often get their facts a little muddled.  As did the Hawthorn Councillor who last week claimed that the cut backs were the fault of the Westminster Government because they had sold the Pops Offices at a loss!  The fact that nobody has sold the Post Offices seems to have escaped her.  She has probably forgotten the closures of these establishments under Labour too.

 It is not the exclusive domain of Labour Councillors to spread inaccurate information because of a lack of understanding of the facts.  The Independent Councillor for Talbot Green seems to make it up as he goes along.

In the March edition of the District Diary it is his turn to address the public.  His arrogance shines through, as unfortunately does his ignorance.

He starts with reference to a letter he has written to the ‘new Chief Executive’ – someone should have told him that he hasn’t taken over the post yet. If he attended a Council meeting more than once every six months he may know.

He goes on to say:

“RCT Cabinet have revised the catchment area for Y Pant School. Under new legislation, which has been passed by the cabinet, pupils of Llantrisant Primary and Penygawsi Primary will now no longer be guaranteed a place at Y Pant School.”

Now this is completely incorrect.  Yes there is an on-going consultation regarding the changing of catchment areas for these two schools, but the Cabinet have not yet decided.  Even if they do go ahead with the proposals they will not be making “new legislation” simply altering school admission arrangements. It is upsetting for those parents fighting the changes to be told that they are a done deal.

Having said that of course every one of the 75 Councillors in RCT were put there by the people via a democratic process. Maybe those voters should be a little more discerning in who they elect, not be blinded by a red rosette or a familiar name, or indeed into thinking that Independents are more able to represent them because there are no party ties. Councillors are people too, even those operating under party banners, and no they are not all the same.