Flintshire County Council

Up for it? or Past it?

Please do take the time to read through my observations. They are intended to keep you, the ratepayers and voters of the Town and County, up to date on current activities.

1. General

By the time you read this latest newsletter, there will be a clearer and more detailed picture, for everyone, of the swingeing cuts in both staffing levels and service delivery that the present Labour administration of the county will be considering for the financial year beginning on 1st April, 2014.

Flintshire’s revenue account is budgeted to spend a little in excess of £280Million in this current year. The Wales Government’s recent announcement of a 3.6% cut in Flintshire’s Revenue Support Grant means a shortfall of £10.1Million for 2014-15. However, using the UK Government‘s own current figure on annual inflation, of 2.7%, that adds another £7.5Million that the county will not have. On the face of it, that represents a total shortfall in the order of £17.6Million. However, as ever, the Wales Government has been a bit sneaky, because they have included a previous annual Rates Support Grant of £850k, within the coming year’s financial support figure. That pushes the total needed to be found, or saved, to something in the order of £18.5Million.

Given a figure of that magnitude, which ignores any increase in demand during the next financial year, there appear to be inevitable short-term results of what lies ahead. Some jobs will go, some services and public facilities will be offered out to town and community councils, private companies or voluntary groups, others will diminish or disappear and your community charge bill will probably rise.
Whether those areas suffer heavily, or lightly, will depend upon how skilful the present administration is in re-organising itself so that remaining employees work smarter and not just harder in coming months and years.

If the expectation is simply that the fewer workers will do more work, I can foresee both the short and long-term sickness and absence figures, which are already a cause for concern, deepening. That will only make matters worse. Where they “Commission” or “Let Out” services, they will need to plan carefully to make certain they retain the supervisory and managerial skills required to guarantee that those organisations actually delivering services are doing just that, both in quality and quantity.

I shall be truly surprised if they do not, somewhere, sometime, trumpet that any job-cuts, or other cut-backs, are not their fault, but purely the fault of serious reductions in funding from Cardiff and ultimately, from Westminster. That is not entirely true, because what they will not tell you, is that during the many years that they were continually and solely in power, up until 2008, when the funding from Cardiff was adequate, they indulged in some seriously long term, heavy, borrowing. The current total figure of long-term borrowing, some not ending until 2050 or so, is £172.113Million. The cost of the interest repayments alone, for the 2013-14 financial year is 9.311Million. Without that unnecessary burden, the deficit facing the county over the next financial year would be half of what it now is. A classic case of “Chickens coming home to roost?”

In contrast when I was Leader of the coalition that administered the county from 2008 to 2012, under circumstances where support finance from Cardiff was already dwindling, so that efficiency savings, in £Millions, were needed and delivered, we borrowed nothing at all and our costs came in under annual budget each year.

2. The Pension Pot Problem.

In 2008, Dr. Brian Gibbons, then Minister for Local Government in the Wales Government, called all of the county council Leaders together in Cardiff, to warn them of the approaching Financial Tsunami. He suggested that a reduction in the local government workforce of some 16 to 20,000 full time employees would be needed. Over the intervening five years, I doubt half of that number has yet gone. During those same years, there has appeared some greater clarity about the size of the deficits facing many, if not quite all, of the Local Government Pension Funds. Now, one of the greatest un-discussed, problems facing Flintshire and local authorities in Wales in general, is that glaringly present black hole in pension funding. Currently, it is acknowledged that, even with stable money and stock markets growing consistently over time, it will be a score or more years before positive financial figures might be achieved.

That prediction is calculated on the basis of a steady number of retirees, balanced by maintaining adequate contributor numbers and worthwhile returns on investments. However, with the probability, indeed certainty, of significant reductions in the number of local government employees within the space of the next few years, the vision, for those bothering to look ahead, is of a sudden heavy demand on pension funds, created by those who will, in the next few years, take early retirement. Alongside that, a smaller workforce will mean less in pension contributions. That must throw out of kilter all of the present calculations about just how long it will take these pension funds to generate sufficient income to be able to afford their current pension liabilities.

In my admittedly unqualified view, the current asset and return figures appear to be significantly below what is likely to be required. The likely run on pension funds could well provoke a further serious financial dilemma. I really do hope that a few senior people in the Pensions and Financial World have an eye on that particular house which appears to be built of financial playing cards that a sudden tidal wave of retirements could well make wobble or collapse. I hope I am wrong, but, until I see substantial proof to the contrary, I will keep this particular bee buzzing about in my bonnet.

3. The New Medical Centre.

I have explained before, in my previous newsletters, why and how all of Buckley’s Town and County Councillors are merely frustrated spectators in this particular issue. It has been and still is entirely a project argued and negotiated over by The Betsi Cadwaladr Health Trust, The District Valuator, The Wales Government and the chosen Developer. Very recently, there have been further utterances by the Health Trust and Carl Sargeant, our local AM, that it looks as though the protracted wrangling over building size, costs and leases, have finally been resolved. Work was supposed to have commenced on Monday, 14th October, 2013, but that target date was missed. All we have is the word that work will actually begin, on site, very shortly. Let us all hope that by the time you get to read this, there really is work going on at the site, at long last. At the risk of possibly sounding cynical, all I am going to say is that I will believe it when I see it!

4. The New Superstore.

At the time of this newsletter going to press, Buckley’s county councillors have just been invited to an up-date meeting at the end of November. Keep fingers crossed that the news is positive about the disused Royal British Legion building and the terms and conditions relating to its sale. Only when that obstacle is removed, will progress will be possible. For the moment, all I can offer is that all of us Buckley councillors, at both Town and County levels, are working very hard and as a team, to overcome the obstacle. Once that hurdle is overcome, we can progress the project to better develop our town centre, in order to eventually bring some real retail price competition into Buckley, where it is sorely needed.

5. Personal Finances.

My last newsletter carried a piece of advice, or a warning, for folks to stay away from Payday Loan Companies, with their tempting offers of instant cash when urgent need arises. That I repeat now. For all too many people, the bright, flashing light of some Payday Loan Company, whichever one, is not the open door to relief from a sudden financial pressure. It is far more likely to be the trapdoor to a debt dungeon, from which the unwary borrower will find it very difficult to escape.

However, people can also rack up serious, indeed sky-high, default charges, even when using some of the recognised major banks and building society accounts. Borrowing £100 for 31 days on an authorised overdraft facility with Santander will cost you £20, while that same £100 from Halifax will cost you £30.

If any financial desperation lures you into an unauthorised overdraft of £100 for a month with the Halifax Reward Current Account, or the Santander Everyday Current Account, that will cost you an additional £100 in charges.
In comparison, borrowing that amount from one of the less extravagant payday loan companies would only cost you between £20 and £37.
The payday loans market has rightly attracted criticism for some of the worst practices in the credit market, but the consumer watchdog “Which” has recently carried out some research that suggests that banks can be just as expensive. Interestingly, the Financial Conduct Authority, (FCA), has published proposed new rules to clamp down on lenders. Even more interestingly, those proposed new rules will not cover high percentages.

The “Which” organisation has called for this major omission to be put right and for the FCA to crack down on poor lending and unscrupulous practices, across the whole financial market. That is a laudable aim, but, with a Westminster Government glaringly more in sympathy with the banks, the financial markets and corporate interests in general, rather than the struggles and concerns of ordinary residents, achieving that control will not be easily or quickly done.

So, in these days of difficulty for most, if not all, working or retired families in Bistre East Ward, or the entire UK, it will be wise to
prioritize need, not want for the two are not the same. Despite the “pester power” of the children, or the wall to wall advertising on TV, please do try, as best you may, to be penny wise and not pound foolish. Above all, if you do currently have financial problems, or see such on the horizon and heading your way, get some professional advice, early!

6. Single Status.

In 1997, legislation was passed that required each of the 22 local authorities in Wales to undertake a process of consultation and negotiation with their employees and union representatives, aimed at achieving a pay structure that was “Equalities Proof.” That was in an attempt to bring to a halt the ever-swelling tide of claims against local authorities arising from alleged breaches of pay legislation that required “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” Most, but not all, of the claimants were women, working alongside men, where they believed they were being paid less for carrying out the same tasks. Flintshire has had its share of that activity. At this present moment there are about 500 such cases against the county.

In simple terms, the task was to “evaluate” every job, regardless of who was doing it. Points were awarded for skills, activities, responsibilities and so forth and a “Score” awarded. That score was ranked against a pay scale and that became the salary for the future for that position. Length of service was catered for by having four or five incremental steps available. It was clearly understood by all involved that there would be some “winners” whose salaries would rise, many who would see little or no change and a number who would end up as “losers” on a smaller salary.

Changes to terms and conditions too were also to be sorted out, so that bonuses that were only available to a few would be done away with, working hours would be rationalised and car usage, holidays, sick pay and overtime arrangements made even and common to all.

In Flintshire, that process was started in 2007. The agreed aim was to reach a settlement that was “Legal, Affordable and Acceptable” in the eyes of all parties. In 2009, with the full agreement of the unions, a set of pay-scales and conditions was set out for our employees to comment upon and, hopefully accept. Despite two years of willing and purposeful negotiations, between Officers and Union Representatives, when our employees – and for that matter – us councillors, finally saw the full details of the offering, there was furore. There were far too many winners and losers and the figures in some cases were extreme.

I had no hesitation in arranging a special county council meeting, which resulted in all parties agreeing to go “back to the drawing board” as it were, in order to reduce the number of winners and losers. Now, four years later, a further set of proposals is shortly to be put to our employees for consideration. If this set of proposals finds favour and is accepted, which I hope it will be, it will be implemented on 1st April, 2014.

If you are wondering how come this local authority only started the process in 2007, ten years after the legislation appeared, you might care to note that Flintshire is about number fourteen or fifteen in finally getting the job done. There are several local authorities who have not yet even started the process.

7. Who is worth their salt?

I am often asked, “What do county councillors actually have to do once they are elected?” If the question is how much are they compelled or obliged to do, the honest answer is very little. To retain their title, position and the basic allowance of £13,175:00 per annum, any county councillor needs only to attend just one formal full county council meeting every six months, There is no requirement, let alone compulsion, for them to sit on any other committee of whatever kind, unless they wish to do so. So, since most full county council meetings are over within three hours, you can work out the hourly pay-rate as “pretty good!” if that is all they do.

Fortunately for the population of the county, most county councillors are genuinely active. They attend whichever committees they have volunteered for and undertake any work needed to sort out the variety of problems, greater or lesser, that arise, daily, within their ward. That workload rises if a councillor becomes chair of any committee, or reaches cabinet level.
Records are of course kept of all attendances of councillors at meetings, so in one way, it is very easy to see just who is a busy and active councillor and who is not. Just look at the number of committees that any particular councillor has volunteered to attend regularly. However, one has to remember that there are councillors who are still holding down full time jobs and others, like me, who are, technically “retired.”

We also have one or two councillors who have sadly encountered lengthy health problems. Thus, the bare figures of councillors’ record of attendance, from April, 2012, to September of 2013, which is available on the county’s website and repeated here, in purely alphabetical order, with percentages rounded up or down, needs to be treated just a little cautiously.

Name                     Percentage Attendance              Name                Percentage Attendance
                             of Meetings Due to Attend                                 of Meetings Due to Attend
Aldridge, Alex.             73% of 14                          Johnson, Joe                 80% of 45      
Attridge, Bernie            81% of 32                          Johnson, Rita                31% of 23
Banks, Glyn                100% of 28                          Jones, Christine            98% of 43
Bateman, Haydn           93% of 61                          Jones, Kevin                 90% of 29
Bateman, Marion          83% of 67                          Jones, Richard              77% of 52
Bithell, Chris                 88% of 67                         Jones, Stella                  80% of 46
Bragg, Amanda             78% of 41                         Legg, Colin                   70% of 48 
Brown, Helen                88% of 27                         Lightfoot, Phil               69% of 30

8. Another Fun Day.

The success of the event on 18th August last, which Buckley Town Council arranged under the title of “Blackpool Comes to Buckley” has guided us towards putting on another fun day during 2014. We councillors and town staff owe you a great big “Thank You” for supporting the 2013 event. We hope you enjoyed it enough to want to come to something equally enjoyable, but just a bit different, next year. At the moment, our early thinking is for a Sunday in May, rather than in August. If you have any strong views about when in the year it might be best to hold it, please let me know, or contact Andy White, our Town Manager, or Martin Wright, our Town Clerk on 01244 544540.

9. Energy Prices and the Future.

Whether it is the UK economy in general or any individual householder, each has to use energy. It powers commerce and industry and it keeps homes warm and food cooked. Our national energy supplies need to be reliable, sufficient, carbon clean and affordable, or we risk commerce and industry losing their competitive edge in the export stakes and individual households ending up in deepening debt. Ignoring those certainties, Mr. Cameron has now contracted the new Hinckley C Nuclear Power Plant, due to come on stream in ten years’ time or so, to a consortium of French (EDF) skills and Chinese finance. Not only that, but he has guaranteed them a KwHr pay rate that is double the present one.
The economy and the poorest groups in the UK cannot now and never will, afford that figure. Mr. Miliband’s token gestures of temporary price freezes will not change the stark fact of where energy and economics are heading under the present Government’s ill-advised growth-based and corporate friendly development models. If you are seriously concerned for your family’s future, take a look at the formal analysis of energy price trends available at:-


At my Item 5 above, I warned you all to watch your personal finances. That is because despite the flim-flam of Governmental Spin, the real truth is that if there has been any real growth in the UK economy lately it has been built largely on personal borrowing, because, at the end of August 2012, the nation’s outstanding personal debt total stood at £1.421 Trillion (Yes, Trillion!). At the end of August 2013, that figure reached £1.427 Trillion.

The present outmoded Governmental “Growth at all costs” philosophy is a “One Egg in One Basket” situation, upon which they are depending. It requires constant population growth (via immigration?) to hopefully keep the internal economy vibrant and pay for care costs for an ageing population. That policy is just a “Pyramid Selling Scheme” turned conveniently upside down. Like all pyramid selling schemes, it is unsustainable in the long term. We desperately need politicians of courage, vision, skill and integrity who are capable of coming up with a sustainable alternative; one that promotes well-being and quality of life for all, not poverty for the many, wealth for the few and greater profits for the corporations that really rule the world.

10. Christmas and The NewYear.

It will soon be Christmas. Among the gloves, socks, ties, shirts and all manner of electronic gadgetry that you will be thinking of giving or receiving, please remember the value of the most precious gifts of time, a few kind words and a helping hand. For Christmas and the New Year, I wish you good health, wealth, a full stomach and good company.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.


If you wish to contact me, please use: 75 Bryn Awelon, Buckley, CH7 2QF (01244) 549421(H), (01352) 752121(FCC) or arnooldwoolley@outlook.com