Cardiff’s Liberal Democrat group has launched a stinging attack on the draft budget put forward by the city’s Labour administration last week, branding the cuts it outlined as “obscene”, “foolish and reckless”, and “stupid”.
In a statement, Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Judith Woodman vowed that her party would stand with Cardiff residents to fight proposed savings totalling £22 million.
Labour’s draft budget includes proposals to close Splott Pool, reduce library opening hours, cut hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding to charities and third sector organisations, and withdraw financial support for Cardiff Riding School.
The administration is also planning to stop visits to Flat Holm Island, and sell the island off, close The Hayes public toilets, shut six bowling greens across the city, and stop the Cardiff Big Weekend.
The council’s cabinet member for finance, Councillor Russell Goodway, told a meeting of the full council on Thursday that the council had to make “difficult decisions” as a consequence of the UK Government’s austerity measures.
But he said the Labour group had done their best to protect “hard-pressed families” by freezing council tax for 2013/2014, and tried to support those services that will help them.
But Coun Woodman said today that the ruling group had failed to protect frontline services in favour of “vast pay rises” for top officers.
The Liberal Democrat councillor for Pentwyn was referring to the Labour administration’s decision to spend around £1.1 million a year on salaries for 23 new senior managers – a move which Labour says will be made “cost neutral” by cutting spending on management consultants.
But Coun Woodman said: “The riding school is one of many vital facilities facing an unnecessary axe. The list is endless. Pools and community centres closed; library services axed; support for charities decimated; spending on education services cut.
“Meanwhile, a dozen new civil servants at the top of the pile will receive vast pay rises, totalling well over a million pounds. The recruitment process alone is costing almost a quarter of a million pounds.
“Their handling of this has been appalling. There was no consultation. It’s obscene.”
Coun Woodman went on to say that Lib Dems would be helping community activists to launch campaigns against Labour’s proposals, insisting they were “on the right side of the argument”.
She said: “We therefore hope we can persuade Labour members to admit these plans are foolish and reckless.
“Labour councillors must know these budget proposals are stupid. Now they must swallow their pride and force their bosses to rethink.
“Together with the people of Cardiff, we’re going to argue and argue and argue our case. In the end, we must hope the Labour administration will accept we’ve been right all along.”
But leader of the council Heather Joyce described the Liberal Democrats’ attack as “expedient and opportunistic”, and said councillors that formed part of the previous Liberal Democrat administration should “come clean and admit their addiction to hiring private consultants on huge amounts of money” during their eight years in County Hall.
Defending Labour’s proposed management restructure, Coun Joyce said: “The Lib Dem-Plaid Coalition spent some £3 million on management consultants last year raiding the council’s precious reserves to the tune of £1.1 million to meet the bill. The Lib Dems were addicted to hiring an army of highly paid consultants.
“Under their culture of consultants one individual was being paid £1,500 per day, the equivalent rate of £333,000 per year. Another twenty were being paid £500 per day the equivalent rate of £110,000 per year. These people are doing the work that council officers should do.”
“Labour’s proposed changes to the council’s senior management arrangements will cost some £1.1 million per year generating an overall saving to council taxpayers of £1.8 million every year.”
Coun Jouce added that Labour had changed the way the budget is set to allow people feed into the process, and make “alternative recommendations”, but said the Lib Dems had “refused to come forward with a single alternative”.
She said: “The Liberal-Democrats have chosen to smear instead of engage, point the finger instead of get around the table.”
You can read more about the campaigns that have been launched so far here, including details of a public meeting to discuss the changes effecting Cardiff Riding School tonight at 7pm at the Cameo Club. Full details of the draft budget proposals can be found here, and information on the cuts to charities and external organisation can be found here.