Jacob Williams
Thursday 31st May, 2018

Musical chairs

Musical chairs

Rumours that my website hosting is the first casualty of financial cutbacks following my planning committee chairmanship stipend loss are nonsense!

My blogging lull owes to the recent long spell of tennis-friendly weather.

Perhaps a more accurate account would be my deer-on-ice-like attempts at knockabouts with the now-subsiding sciatic pain I’ve endured since January.

Think less Boris Becker and more Boris Johnson.

The close working relationship between Pembrokeshire County Council’s Tories and the ‘independent’ party, the IPG, has been in evidence for some time.

Their voting pact at the authority’s AGM earlier this month was sussed out long beforehand, as reported by Old Grumpy.

They’d joined forces to oust me and Labour councillor Tom Tudor – elected last year to chair the planning and licensing committees respectively – and, by a whisker, pulled it off.

In a deal of mutual support which both camps deny, the IPG put forward Cllr. Reg Owens for the licensing chair, whilst the Conservatives put up Cllr. David Howlett for planning.

I’m told talks between the camps included the threat from the Tories – based on the order in which the votes were taken – that ‘if Jacob wins the planning vote, the IPG can kiss goodbye to Tories voting for Reg on licensing!’

The obvious inference being: had I won, Tom would have had a good chance of survival on a vengeance vote.

Who knew PCC affairs could be so dastardly?!

As it was, the tally – 27-26 with two spoilt papers for planning, and 32-23 for licensing – means with mathematical certainty at least five non-Tory/IPG councillors voted against me and Tom, eight.

It could all set things up for an interesting time at next year’s AGM where the authority’s leadership post – a two-year term – will come up for its first reappointment.

Some hope present leader David Simpson will go against his 2017 pledge and stand again.

The 2019 race is expected to see an IPG/Tory contender, with former leaders Jamie Adams and John Davies ramping up the leadership rhetoric of late, giving every appearance of positioning themselves for a bid.

The idea isn’t at all fanciful, nor, some will be reluctant to admit, is its prospect of success.

Adams was scratching around for support last year right up until withdrawing after the Tories said unity candidate Simpson was their man.

If the two camps’ recent chairmanship deal is anything to go by, they’ve kissed and made up.

With the IPG/Tory bloc only requiring a handful of councillors of other affiliations to vote in a new leader, it’s game-on.

On a secret vote, an IPG/Tory leadership candidate could put his name forward on the mere chance not expectation of victory.

And perhaps more importantly, unlike Simpson last year, the candidate could do so without the burden of requiring any pledged support up-front.

If the plan flops there’s nothing to admit to, and if they pull it off, the Tories and IPG could, again, deny any dirty deal.

When he was installed leader unopposed in 2017, Cllr. Simpson said he would only serve for a single two-year term.

He may conclude it’s a promise worth keeping.

As for who’d replace him on the ballot paper as a ‘unity’ candidate, we can only wonder at this stage…

Missed appointments

The assignments of us unaffiliated councillors are made by full council.

Every AGM they all come up for re-appointment on a big list.

Cllr. Mike Stoddart enquired why our seat each on the police and crime panel and the fire authority were omitted from the agenda.

Monitoring officer Claire Jones rose to her feet and, not acknowledging an unwitting omission, instead came up with some stuff about how:

“…the administrators of these particular authorities have expressed preference that the term of office is for the whole term because that ensures that there is expertise and continuity, and so over the years that is what has developed so it’s quite rare I understand for there to be a change mid-term.”

This seemingly unconvincing spiel is further undermined by the lack of any requirement for these two appointments, made in 2017, to last the whole council term of five years.

It’s patently not for the bodies themselves to influence unaffiliated councillors’ appointments nor should it be for the officer of any authority to involve themselves in the process of determining such.

Perhaps the most undermining part, though, can be found with another comparable authority, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

Unaffiliated members’ park seats are and always have been appointed at the AGM, never with any utterance over a preference for ‘continuity’ from anyone, let alone the statutory officer tasked with keeping PCC on the straight and narrow.

Unfortunately as is usually the case with officers’ utterances, they’re taken as gospel by the chamber – with no account for relevance or accuracy.

This may be why Cllr. Stoddart didn’t press the issue.

If they’re forgotten or intentionally withheld from next year’s AGM, things might not go so smoothly.

In the meantime I’ve asked the MO if she can refer me to where “the administrators of these particular authorities have expressed preference that the term of office is for the whole term…” and await her reply with interest.

Outnumbered

It was surely the howler from chief executive Ian Westley which tops the blooper list.

Two councillors stood to become the authority’s vice-chair: Simon Hancock and Mike James.

Mr. Westley declared Cllr. Hancock the victor with 34 votes against Cllr. James’ 29 and two spoilt ballots.

The mathematically mediocre among the chamber immediately realised the impossibility.

A council of sixty members (with five absences to boot) against the head honcho’s declaration of 65 votes having been cast was irreconcilable.

Not without resorting to claims of Russian interference, at least.

A blissfully unaware Westley was alerted to what he called “the blindingly obvious” by Tenby councillor Mike Evans.

Cllr. James had in fact received 19 votes.

Fortunately this boob didn’t give the wrong outcome – which is just as well because Hancock was already at the dais, readying himself for the chains!

Paper chase

Mr. Westley doesn’t have the most enviable record when it comes to administering elections.

Since succeeding Bryn Parry-Jones in 2014 as statutory ‘Electoral Registration Officer’ and ‘Returning Officer,’ Mr. Westley has presided over several national polls whose counts are consistently among the last in the country to declare.

He also oversaw last year’s round of local elections, during which I inadvertently started the ball rolling on what became the following eyebrow-raising incident.

I’ve never revealed it publicly but I was the one who, by mere chance, alerted Mr. Westley to a key requirement of the elections nomination process.

Candidates are required to sign a statement agreeing to abide by electoral laws, accompanied by printouts of the statutes.

As I handed over my nomination papers to Mr. Westley he commented on how many more sheets I had submitted than other candidates.

Having thumbed through them he commented that, unlike others, I had accompanied my signed declaration with copies of the law which wasn’t necessary but wouldn’t be a problem.

I just said I was only doing as I thought was required and, as I had stapled them, he received all sheets together as I’d presented them.

Mr. Westley went to the back of the room to check everything out and came back shortly thereafter to say all was in order.

After some brief small talk we shook hands and I left.

I heard nor thought nothing more about the matter until that evening.

It was a phone call from Mike, the author of that other website telling me he, his wife Viv and daughter Tessa – who had all submitted their own nomination papers that same day – had received telephone calls from the elections unit.

They were told the alarming news that, despite being confirmed as validly-nominated candidates on their departure from County Hall, their nomination papers and others like them were incomplete and would have to be resubmitted if they still wanted to stand.

This was because the election administrators had newly become aware of the long-running requirement for nominations to include the aforementioned printouts, of which spare copies would in future be on hand for others making the same omission.

The trio duly resubmitted and went on to win re-election.

I don’t know how many other awkward phone calls had to be made to would-be councillors who’d slipped through the net – but it was probably just as well this all happened on the opening day.


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8 Comments...

  • Malcolm Calver

    Nice to see you back Jacob. Reading of the shenanigans at County Hall with regard to SRAs, nothing has changed.

    Time for councillors to pay more attention to the real needs of ratepayers and not their own selfish interests.

    If you are claiming a percentage of the salary of Ian Westley, by acting as his adviser, do declare it in the declaration of interest register!

  • Mark

    It sounds like the result of David Boswell’s trial could have a big influence on next year’s AGM, whichever way it goes for him.

  • Flashbang

    Council had a chance to clean out the swamp after the last election but chose to keep the incompetent and corrupt in place.

    The taxpayers of the county saw which way the wind was blowing but are stuck with this bunch of parasites.

    This was reinforced recently when pay rises for all was unanimously passed without any mention of the strain on the budget.

    Self interest rules at PCC and it’s back to the bad old days of business as usual with no oversight from the watchkeepers.

    Very sad days ahead for the taxpayers who will see their money squandered and the rule of law being ignored. Is the collective conscience of the council all about how much they can grab for themselves?

  • Mark

    I also wonder what a new administration would promise for taxpayers.

    We are presumably talking about the same people who got PCC into such a mess over past years so ‘Change We Can Believe In’ sounds unlikely!

  • Keanjo

    Nice to have you back JW but I don’t blame you for taking advantage of this lovely spell of weather!

    Commiserations on your very narrow defeat but I’m sure you will get another opportunity.

  • John Hudson

    So we may be heading back to ignoring the Government’s Standard Spending Assessment of the level of spend in favour of “the lowest Council Tax in Wales” regardless of the consequences for the standard of services we need.

    More interest in outcomes than process, in an environment riddled with necessary, legal processes.

    Can we keep an eye of the IPG/Tory cabal and see how many times the Tories float questions helpful to the cause at Council?

    I see Old Grumpy has already pointed to the IPG moves to brush over the sixth form size miscalculations.

    Officers must be living in hope.

  • John Hudson

    You can now sit at home and view the list of payments made by the council on its audit of accounts website. As a local resident you have legal rights to inspect, ask questions about and challenge items included in the accounts.

    The nine members of the cabinet have approved the 2017-8 financial outturn monitoring report, which will make its way through O&S committee review, but this process is unlikely to throw up any questions.

    The formal comprehensive draft accounts, subject to inspection by the public and potential audit objection, are also available on the website.

    It may come as a surprise that in accordance with legislation, the draft comprehensive accounts have not been presented to councillors. These are largely unintelligible to lay persons.

    Our councillors will “own” them and get to be accountable, only when the audited accounts are presented to them. So who is responsible for questioning the council’s spending?

  • Patrick

    “Missed appointments” I also will be interested in the reply you get from the monitoring officer (aka Must & May).

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