News from the CIPFA in Wales conference Daws takes flak over council settlement

22 Nov 07
The director of finance of the Welsh Assembly Government has come under fire following what council leaders described as an 'appalling' settlement for councils.

23 November 2007

The director of finance of the Welsh Assembly Government has come under fire following what council leaders described as an 'appalling' settlement for councils.

Christine Daws was speaking at the CIPFA in Wales annual conference in Llandudno on November 16, two days after the settlement had been announced.

Answering questions, she faced criticism that the average 2.3% increase for next year was unfair on councils and that the Welsh Assembly had not taken its own share of the medicine.

Ken Finch, director of corporate finance at Conwy County Borough Council, said: 'In some ways, the Assembly is in a lifeboat and we're in a lifeboat, but you've got paddles and local government hasn't.'

He added: 'You've made comments about expectations in terms of reduced costs of administration, yet the share in the Assembly's budget on administration is increasing. I don't mind taking administration out in my organisation, but you get the impression that the pain is being inflicted in an unfair way.'

Daws responded by saying that the Welsh Assembly Government faced a large cut in resources. 'At the end of the day, politicians have to make a judgement about the distribution and they are elected to do that.'

In her speech, she pointed out that Wales had fared better than Scotland and Northern Ireland in last month's Comprehensive Spending Review.

Cuts to services would not be necessary if public bodies took the opportunity to review how they operated, she added.

'Sometimes it takes a real wake-up call or burning platform to get everyone engaged in recognising that things really do need to change.'

Daws highlighted 'massive differences' in local government performance in Wales. She said one council achieved the target for assessing vulnerable children in only 19% of cases, while another managed it in 88%. One authority took 239 days to make homelessness assessments, while another took just 16. 'How can we support variations in practice like that?' she said.

The Assembly is organising a conference of public sector finance directors across Wales, which will take place in Cardiff on February 6 to discuss sharing best practice.

Assembly 'is too small for proper scrutiny'

There is a 'massive deficit' in scrutiny terms in the Welsh Assembly, a leading expert on devolution warned delegates.

Laura McAllister, professor of governance at Liverpool University, said that the Assembly was far too small. It has only 60 members, two-thirds of whom represent the two governing parties, Labour and Plaid Cymru.

AMs were often to be seen scurrying from one committee to another, she said. 'Clearly, they found that extremely difficult in terms of preparation and being on top of their brief.'

McAllister said that Wales should adopt the Scottish devolutionary model because of its 'clarity' and 'intelligibility'. However, a revamped Assembly could not function with only 60 AMs and would need to be closer to the Scottish Parliament's 129 members.

In turn, this would require a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs at Westminster. 'That's a very sensitive issue in Wales, but it is one that has to be addressed,' she admitted.

McAllister also suggested that England was now the worst-governed part of the UK and that this could not continue indefinitely. 'I feel there is a clear need for an English Parliament,' she told Public Finance.

'There needs to be more mature and thoughtful analysis of how this might be composed to reflect England's distinctive regional identities and to complement elected local government.'

Tight funds 'threaten One Wales pledges'

The Labour and Plaid Cymru coalition will not be able to achieve some of the promises contained in the One Wales Agreement, Plaid's honorary president has confirmed.

Dafydd Wigley told delegates that Wales' draft budget, published on November 5, made forward planning difficult.

'In these circumstances, there may well be an impact on the deliverability of the One Wales Agreement, he said.

But he asserted that this was not the fault of First Minister Rhodri Morgan or his government. 'Our fight is not with Rhodri and his colleagues, it is with the Treasury in London,' said Wigley.

'It is with Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling and their henchmen who give them unthinking support when Wales needs voices at Westminster who will shout from the roof-tops to get us a better deal.'

Labour offered the One Wales deal to entice Plaid into the coalition. However, some of the more costly initiatives are now under threat. Plans to provide grants to first-time buyers have already been watered down.

PFnov2007

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