CONCERNS have been expressed that the Assurance and Improvement Board should think of Powys County Council’s overall finances when pushing changes in Social Services.

At their last meeting on Thursday, October 31, the Finance Panel discussed  meeting Jack Straw, the independent chairman of the Assurance and Improvement board, to discuss money issues.

Cllr John Morris, (Liberal Democrat – Crickhowell), said: “I have for a time been concerned about the direction the improvement board is going in and now it has education.

“This council is actually being led by the improvement board which is not answerable to anybody in this council, and financially this worries me.

“Because the improvement board will say this that and the other and we will have  to find the money from other areas to do it, to the extent that we will find they will disappear.

“I think we’re at the stage where we do need the chair of the board to come to the finance panel.”

The costs in Children’s Services are continuing to spiral and Cllr Morris said he did not understand why this is the continuing trend.

Head of Finance, Jane Thomas, disagreed: “The chair has an opinion.

“But when it comes to setting the council budget that is very much cabinet and council’s choice with guidance and support from myself and other heads of service.”

Cllr Morris responded: “He can leave in two years time saying that he’s saved children’s services and education, but at what cost to Powys?

“That is the question.”

Committee chairman and independent member, John Brautigam, said that his concern was that the board was suggesting pushing more funding towards social care and education.

Mr Brautigam said “We are spending far more on social care than counties we compare with, in education at gross level, we are I think the highest funders.

“We are already spending significant sums and it’s already had the effect of squeezing the remaining budgets to an almost unacceptable level.”

Mr Brautigam added that the board needed to take a look of “the broader aspects of the budget as a whole.”

Labour group leader, Cllr Mathew Dorrance (Brecon St John), said: “I think we’re forgetting, the minister put this in place because regulators and the Welsh Government didn’t have confidence in the people who were running these services.

“We need to drive improvement, let’s not forget that.

“We want local control of them, but they were not capable of delivering the quality services that the people of Powys expect.

“Let’s not lose sight of that.”

The Assurance and Improvement Board was established in March 2018 to provide “challenge and support” to PCC and “drive forward the required change and improvement” in the authority.

It followed a highly critical report in October 2017 into Children’s Services by the CIW (Care Inspectorate Wales).

Both Children’s and Adults Services are part of its remit and Education has now been added to it and the board answers to the Welsh Government.