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How many noughts?

Betsan Powys | 15:23 UK time, Thursday, 23 October 2008

"Local councils have £581m in the bank."

You just knew that figure put on council reserves and quoted by the Finance Minister to the Finance Committee this morning, would squeeze its way into a press release before the day was out. An amount of money that "blows the socks off" committee member, Alun Davies, must surely hit the headlines.

Plaid's Chris Franks has just obliged.

You suspect that Andrew Davies knew it too, especially when he added helpfully to any committee members who'd missed the point: "That's half a billion pounds".

Now to be fair he did go on to point out that the cool half a billion he'd just cited included allocated as well as unallocated money. In other words you get to the cool half a billion by counting money that's already been earmarked for capital to build roads, town centre regeneration projects, match funding for European projects, new waste facilities, transport, leisure centres and nearly £60million for schools.

Perhaps he'd like us to cancel all school building programmes suggested a voice from the WLGA, who'd looked out of the window and spotted the tanks on the lawn outside.

Take away the allocated money and you're left with around £144m. Andrew Davies was in helpful mode again: "You'll note that that is significantly more than the Assembly Government holds [around £100million), for a budget of fifteen billion."

It does sound like an awful lot of money stashed away for a rainy day and as Chris Franks suggests, isn't it meant to be pouring right now?

Except when you divide £144m by the number of Welsh councils - 22 - it works out at around £7m per council. (Not actually how it works but you get my drift).

Still rather a lot given how loudly councils have complained about the impact of a tight settlement from central government this year?

Except equal pay claims will have to be settled soon. That will cost millions. Fuel and energy bills are shooting up by millions.

Still ... does sound like a heck of a lot, doesn't it?

Please don't forget, says the voice from the WLGA that the Assembly doesn't actually deliver any services at all: no teachers, social workers, environmental health officers, nor the costs and inflation that go with them.

The WLGA are holding a conference in Llandrindod Wells tomorrow. According to the agenda there'll be tea, coffee and Welsh cakes to welcome delegates. If they really did have half a billion around, you suspect the welcome would be rather more Corfu than currant buns.


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