Concerns at Cardiff Council

When Welsh local Government comes up in discussion these days I'm often told big is beautiful.

It's pointed out that the councils to have got into most difficulty are usually the smallest.

So the highly critical auditors report into Wales' biggest local authority Cardiff has turned that theory on its head.

Among other things, the Wales Audit Office says it is failing to improve services because of fragmented leadership and management.

Scale, which in Cardiff's case is a staff of around 14,000, means that on paper they're in a better position to absorb cuts than other much smaller councils.

But at the same time, scale can mean costs spiral out of control.

The Wales Audit Office did consider recommending special measures for Cardiff but decided against it because it felt the new management team was heading in the right direction, and so it got more time.

Awkward questions

The leader Phil Bale told me the time to judge them all will be this time next year.

The stakes are high for Cardiff.

Special measures mean some form of extra help is required and in the extreme that can mean the Welsh Government coming in and running services.

That would have led to some awkward questions from political opponents for Labour Welsh Government ministers being called in to help the largest Labour-run authority in a city where the party is hoping to capture two new seats in the general election.

It didn't happen but the fact that it was considered shows how serious the failings are.

No-one pretends that Phil Bale has an easy job. He has had a meteoric rise to the top of the council and he'll be tested over the next year.

He admits it's going to be a bumpy ride but to be fair to him the failings identified in the report came before he took charge.

Sobering read

The statement he released talked of the report being a "sobering read" and laying out in "stark terms" the challenges facing the council.

There then followed a lengthy statement about consultations, reviews and debates.

When I asked him when actual decisions are going to be taken the answer was over the next few months.

So residents in the capital will soon see how the new regime will take decisions about the future and deal with cuts which are not going to get any easier next year.

He's also in charge of a Labour group at the council which, as one senior figure in Welsh local Government put it, is more happy sending grenades rather than Christmas cards to each other.

Whether it likes it or not, Cardiff will inevitably become a shop window in how councils deal with the cuts, and most importantly try to protect services.

It won't just be the public watching it'll be the Wales Audit Office as well which is going back to publish another report next year.