Jacob Williams
Tuesday 19th December, 2017

Turkey shoot

Turkey shoot

Crisp and tender. That’s surely how Cllr. Jamie Adams felt on his drive home from Thursday’s full council meeting.

Ousted as Pembrokeshire County Council’s leader following his ‘independent’ party’s ballot box drubbing at this May’s elections, Cllr. Adams used this seasonal pantomime to play a convincing Christmas turkey – receiving more of a pasting than basting.

For those wondering why he’s still getting airtime, he really doesn’t help himself – using the meeting to promote his virtues and pursue his return to power.

Cllr. Adams has taken to blanket criticism of the leadership style of his successor, Cllr. David Simpson and “his and his administration’s inability to make difficult and unpopular decisions” which are “bankrolled by hard working families.”

Parading as the champion of the downtrodden taxpayer now he’s leader of the opposition, I’m bound to remind readers of Cllr. Adams’ flair for the ‘difficult and unpopular,’ all whilst looking out for Pembrokeshire’s ratepayers.

Like the time he sat in wait, until he knew he was safely re-elected to the council, before filing claims for four years’ worth of travel expenses.

In the wake of public outrage Adams merely dismissed as “poor bookkeeping” his submission of thousands of pounds’ worth of the historic claims – which were paid out, despite well past the three month deadline stipulated on claim forms.

History shows that under this turkey’s leadership it was the public who got stuffed.

Not a fan of the way Cllr. Simpson’s cabinet members act independently and engage with the press, Cllr. Adams singled out the member for finance, Bob Kilmister, whose role he complains “is normally undertaken by council leaders.”

To express such interest on this most boring of details reveals far more about Cllr. Adams and his past administration than Cllr. Simpson – whose cabinet by contrast is an embarrassment of riches.

Adams seems to be oblivious to Simpson’s luxury – leading a cabinet whose members possess the capacity to carry out their briefs, independently, and to publicly front their portfolios.

Indeed, his criticisms of Cllr. Kilmister’s BBC Wales news appearance on the upcoming budget came with a twist of irony, as Jamie had set-up his full council showdown with his own press preview in the Pembrokeshire Herald.

The paper ran a big splash on his criticisms of next year’s mooted 12.5% council tax increase.

Jamie thinks he’s the person to say it will put “the squeeze on hard-working Pembrokeshire families,” and as for the new cabinet’s decision-making ability, asks: “what confidence can the people have?”

At Thursday’s meeting Cllr. Adams tabled three questions, the most allowed, and some usually mute members of his ‘independent’ party – the IPG (independent political group) – made a concerted effort to fill the agenda with a flurry of their own.

Among them was Cllr. Reg Owens, who wondered aloud if social services cabinet member Cllr. Tessa Hodgson’s decision to step down from the local fostering panel is an indication our lassie has bitten off more than she can chew. The nerve!

Few, if any, of the IPG’s shots hit their target’s outer ring. Cabinet member Cllr. Paul Miller’s blistering rejoinder to Jamie’s attack on the new administration and its competency set the meeting’s tone very early on.

He invoked the golden handshake Adams & Co. craftily concocted and pushed through the council chamber for disgraced chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones, costing taxpayers the best part of half a million, all told.

An on-form Miller didn’t even let poor old Pepper off the hook.

Pursuing what appeared to be an innocuous line of inquiry – Fishguard’s vacant and decrepit school which has long been earmarked for demolition – former IPG cabinet member for planning, Cllr. Myles Pepper, wants the new administration to get on with the job pronto!

Miller welcomed Pepper’s newfound desire for urgency before reminding him that his own administration had sat on his ‘priority’ for the last five years without doing a thing.

Credit to Miller for delivering a speedy demolition – if not the one Myles was after!

Meanwhile, Jamie was aimlessly firing his blunderbuss at what he sees as the authority’s cabinet members not pulling their weight, failing their pledge to be busy bees.

Questioning their commitment, he claims the cabinet room is often empty – and he knows so because he walks past and the lights are turned off.

Adams’ featherweight ramble served only to provide a splendid set-up for the obvious off-mic zinger, to howls of laughter:

“When Jamie was in power the lights were on but nobody was home…”

This turkey was, by the end of his six hour marathon, truly roasted.

Carey godmother

Among the bizarre blows Cllr. Adams tried to land on Cllr. Simpson was his probe into why ‘responsibility’ for the pending Swansea Bay City Deal (SBCD) had been offloaded by the leader and delegated to cabinet member Paul Miller.

Readers might feel that, for one of the largest and possibly riskiest publicly-funded economic regeneration schemes in south and west Wales history, the involvement of PCC’s cabinet member for the economy should go without saying.

Unlike Cllr. Adams who appointed his cabinet on patronage, Cllr. Simpson appointed on merit – and in Cllr. Miller, despite his young age, has a colleague with direct professional and highly relevant educational credentials for the brief.

You might also wonder what business it is of a failed leader to criticise the day-to-day management of his successor, Adams clearly not disposed to the custom of past US presidents to remain tight-lipped on successive office-holders.

But such criticisms Adams freely airs – in his credibility vacuum – should be taken seriously to suggest he’s not giving up his ambition of returning to power, as he might put it so he can: “fight on behalf of the hard-pressed Pembrokeshire public.”

In response, Simpson said Miller “hasn’t taken it over,” he had never attended or been involved with SBCD meetings, and questioned where Adams got his inaccurate information from.

He added that Cllr. Miller will be involved once – though probably should have said ‘if’ – the deal gets off the ground.

Adams can’t be surprised that Cllr. Simpson will continue to make full use of his cabinet members, and it’s not easy to understand why such involvement, if already ongoing, would be denied.

His conspiracy theory suitably disproven, the former leader withdrew his guns, and was actually in danger of sounding supportive of his successor’s comments on the SBCD as he asked his lengthy follow-up question, which then received Simpson’s response.

At this stage of proceedings business should have moved on to the next question, but pay attention.

A gleeful Adams, by now holding up an iPad, was allowed a second bite by the chairman, former IPG member Cllr. Paul Harries.

As if answering a question that had just been asked, Adams announced that he got his information about Miller taking over SBCD responsibility from the council’s own website.

Pointing to the screen, Cllr. Adams didn’t make clear what the page was or related to, but read out what seemed to be a list of Cllr. Miller’s involvements, including the SBCD.

What this ‘proved’ remains to be seen – and one obvious question is, why Adams would present as slam-dunk evidence information on a public website there was obviously no attempt to conceal.

The more tactical question for you armchair detectives might be: if this really was such a game-changing revelation, why did Adams choose to retreat when it came to his follow-up question, instead of dropping this ‘bombshell’ at the prime time?

Only a very few know the real reason why this exchange was interesting – and I’m among the councillors who saw exactly what happened. In true panto fashion, it magically landed in his lap.

Sharing is caring: Jamie ‘two iPads’ Adams

Being careful with the facts was always Adams’ stock in trade as leader, and it seems it’s the way he intends to continue in his electorally-mandated relegation to the opposition benches.

If Jamie was being up-front he would have said he got his ‘information’ from the Tories.

His own iPad was sitting on his desk. The one he was holding aloft – portraying the supposedly devastating evidence – had been handed to him by the genial Cllr. Aaron Carey from the Conservative benches, across the chamber.

Natural bedfellows, the Tories and the IPG, say many – even fuelling speculation that the two parties could join forces to reinstate Adams as leader, or to install another candidate.

Some fingers are pointing to the possible return of Adams’ predecessor. Increasingly vocal of late, Cllr. John ‘Cwmbetws’ Davies has been ramping up the leadership rhetoric in recent months, and has some history lending credit to such a scenario.

Whilst Cllr. Carey’s action may confirm little more than the existence of a cosy working relationship between the two camps, it also does little to dampen speculation that they may coalesce to overturn that which Pembrokeshire’s voters comprehensively rejected at the ballot box on May 4th.

Ask no questions…

The provision of duff legal guidance to councillors is par for the course at County Hall – yet Thursday’s meeting looked set to become a rare exception.

That was until near the end, where chairman Paul Harries was misadvised that the rule which allows a councillor to nominate another to pose a supplementary to his tabled question was at the “chairman’s discretion.”

With councillors’ questions featuring so strongly on full council agendas – particularly Thursday’s, with 36 submitted – ignorance of this part of the authority’s constitution should be all the more surprising, but really isn’t at all.

In fact the rules governing councillors’ questions have given rise to inordinate instances of lawyerly pratfalls.

2017’s classic case came at the March meeting when the then chairman, Tony Brinsden, denied Cllr. Tom Tudor’s request to read out his question before the cabinet member responded, ruling that such a provision didn’t exist.

I knew Tom was right. We both protested, but the chairman wouldn’t budge and was in fact shored up by legal who informed the chamber that: “there’s nothing in the constitution that specifically deals with this point.”

This, despite the following passage of the constitution appearing in decidedly black and white shades:

“Each Member asking a question may speak for a maximum of three minutes to ask his/her question.”

‘Questionable’ advice, indeed…

I wasn’t informed by the chairman until the meeting was underway that he would be allowing my urgent question to be dealt with.

This relates to the suggestion that County Hall embarked on a cover-up exercise when first made aware of concerns Saundersfoot C. P. School’s past headteacher fiddled students’ results.

The reply from education cabinet member Cllr. David Lloyd confirmed that version of events – and as well as pursuing this through the council in the new year, I’ll be writing about it on this blog. Much more could emerge.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting I spoke with councillors Michelle Bateman and Vivien Stoddart in a Facebook Live video:

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  • Keanjo

    No mention of the 12.5% council tax increase, Jacob.

  • That’s for determination in March 2018, Keanjo.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Jacob, I note your continuing support for the new ruling individuals at County Hall, especially the Labour Party member Cllr Miller.

    Your latest suggestion is that he was appointed by Cllr Simpson due to his “direct professional and highly relevant education credentials.”

    We have over the last few years seen many professional consultants engaged by Pembrokeshire County Council produce reports which have cost Pembrokeshire ratepayers dearly.

    Surely all we need is councillors with common sense.

    On the subject of the option to raise council tax by 12.5%, if county councillors are so sure county ratepayers would support this option the time has come for you to propose a consultation exercise, with those who are paying full rates themselves whilst at the same time paying for those not paying.

  • Malcolm,

    The expensive and controversial engagement of PricewaterhouseCoopers was an executive decision made by the chief executive, Ian Westley, without any involvement of elected members.

    Their work was practically worthless and they were quietly dropped by Mr. Westley, who had previously intended to engage them on a commission basis.

    This was followed by the notorious engagement of external advisers, Winckworth Sherwood, into reconfiguration options for leisure services. They were also appointed under officers’ delegated powers, during Cllr. Adams’ administration.

    Their work was of even less worth than PwC’s, being hopelessly flawed due to what these ‘professionals’ should have realised was an obvious legal issue.

    I’m not sure what you are arguing, but I stated that Cllr. Simpson as leader has appointed his cabinet on merit.

    You may or not be aware that he invited applications from councillors asking for their CVs. I did not apply!

    It so happens that, in Cllr. Miller, the cabinet has somebody with the relevant professional experience and qualifications relative to both his brief, and the SBCD in particular, which Cllr. Adams referred to.

    As for ‘common sense,’ due to the fact these consultants were appointed by senior officers without any reference to elected members, my views could be in danger of clashing with my obligations under the councillors’ code of conduct!

  • Keanjo

    Jacob, in my innocence I thought it was a Chief Executive’s task to manage the executive officers in his charge to achieve objectives set by the council.

    He should be competent and experienced enough to carry out that task without resorting to outside advice. Otherwise he should not have been appointed.

    It is almost unbelievable that he has the power to engage the services of so-called management experts at very considerable cost without the prior agreement of the elected members.

  • Larry T Lamb

    I think the incident with Two iPads Adams (he’s not two-faced, he wouldn’t wear that one if he was) demonstrates nothing more than his desperation at his comprehensive twatting from the current Cabinet members.

    When it comes to the City Deal, I think there has to be some definite benefit for Pembrokeshire and not just the vague promise of jam tomorrow.

    Money should not be spent on vanity projects when we are having to cut services we all use and pay more for those which are left.

  • John Hudson

    While attention is focussed on the proposals for Council Tax hikes, the pursuit of increased charges to full cost recovery for use of direct services is being overlooked.

    This is a policy approved by the previous IPG Cabinet and continued by the current administration.

    By using different accounting terminology, the council can charge users for additional notional costs that it does not actually incur (see review of car parking charges report to cabinet, 27 November 2017) where a “funded” surplus of £543,250 can under full cost recovery be regarded as a £414,570 deficit.

    Whereas the council tax reduction scheme allows for discounts, charges for services do not provide any discounts if people cannot afford to pay them out of their reducing disposable income.

    Councillors are not obliged to adopt financially full cost recovery and are under some obligation to consider non-financial relevant social considerations when setting discretionary charges.

  • Clive Davies

    Malcolm, I see no evidence that Paul Miller lacks common sense, rather the reverse.

    His interventions generally appear as thoughtful and timely, he has also demonstrated a willingness to consult and listen.

    Being part of the England-focussed Labour Party is surely a matter for his own conscience.

    There are rather worse organisations to belong to starting with letters like ‘IP’ and ‘C’!!!

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