Monday’s meeting of the Rugby Borough Council Cabinet made all three of the local papers. The Observer only arrived this morning, so I waited until I’d read it before compiling this.
The bigger story for them is the Council’s opposition to cuts in the Judicial services, particularly the Government’s plan to close Rugby Magistrates Court. The reasons for objection actually show that making savings in public services is not always so simple as people and politicians think. On the face of it, having fewer courts means savings for the Ministry of Justice. However, for Rugby it means that the Borough Council will have to pay more in order to take people to court. It also means that the Police are likely to lose access to local cells and so will have to spend more time transporting people to Nuneaton or Leamington.
While people may not have sympathy for people who are being charged with offences, not all of them are guilty, and there are also witnesses, victims and lawyers who would need or want to attend court – for people in Rugby that will mean extra cost travelling time. And of course, if people find it harder to attend court they are less likely to turn up at all, which will add to delays in the system and so costing the Justice system more.
So a saving to one part of the government will mean more costs to others, and won’t actually be as great as it would immediately appear.
Which brings me back to the situation at Rugby Council with the Leader/Chief Executive row. The Observer editorial sums it up best, I think:
Craig Humphrey’s continued determination to keep the report on his new position shielded from public eyes seems somewhat ill-advised.
No doubt the document does contain sensitive information which, legally, cannot be released, but the dismissal of suggestions to edit the report and omit these details smacks of nothing more than unwillingness to back down over the issue.
No matter how many times Coun Humphrey assures people that he still has no managerial power and claims that the move will make savings, it is clear people will not be convinced until they are allowed access to the paperwork.
I spoke to a couple of councillors after the meeting on Monday, and they said that they had not even had what they felt were full answers to their questions when the decisions were being taken. It’s not just Labour councillors who feel this way, as a letter to the press from Cllr Jerry Roodhouse last week made clear.
The apparent prime reason for the change is to make savings, and the Leader completely failed to answer direct questions about the expected savings to be made, and by not publishing even a redacted version of the report, we are still in the dark as to what the savings are. All that has been mentioned is that the last Chief Executive was on £103,000. Fine, but seeing as Craig Humphrey will likely get an increase to his allowances and be claiming more in expenses, and the two former deputies will also likely be eligible for a higher salary, all we can be sure of is that the savings will be some way under £100K.
It’s not impossible that there could end up being no savings at all.
And this is before we look at what the legal position is, or questions about why we as members of the public can’t see the report even after the fact (with sensitive data removed of course).