Jacob Williams
Sunday 30th June, 2019

Carwyn’s comedown!

Carwyn’s comedown!

As Wimbledon fortnight starts tomorrow my mind turns to last year’s visit, which involved some particularly good fortune.

I had Centre Court tickets for the penultimate day’s proceedings – matches including the ladies’ singles and men’s doubles finals, the latter of which was a five-set epic.

Late into the night beforehand, as I was watching the Djokovic/Nadal semi-final on the telly, I worked out that there was no way this match, with no end in sight, could possibly play to completion that evening.

Not because of lighting conditions – that’s no longer an issue since the floodlit retractable roof was installed – but because the London authorities impose a curfew on late-night play due to public transport restrictions.

And so it turned out that my ladies’ final tickets became hot property – because first thing on the following day’s order of play was the conclusion of this rip-roaring men’s semi-final, carried over from the night before.

And what a match it was – featuring a 7(11)-6(9) tiebreak midway through, this brutal grind went down in the history books, culminating in a nail-biting 10-8 final set.

It was the second-longest semi-final in the championships’ history – the only longer one was that year’s other semi-final, a match where Kevin Anderson defeated John Isner with the extraordinary scoreline to match: 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 6-4, 26-24.

The carried-over semi-final was effectively the men’s final – as nobody comprehended either player possibly losing in the following day’s final to Anderson, the South African who’s not a habitual presence this deep into grand slam tournaments.

Djokovic’s triumph over Nadal was immediately followed-up by the ladies’ final – easily the least memorable tennis match I’ve ever attended.

Indeed I can go some way in evidencing this.

Later that year at the monthly quiz night I go to, I was unable to answer: ‘Who won the 2018 Wimbledon ladies’ singles title?’

Fortunately teammate Eric, the chap whose breadth (and often depth) of knowledge never ceases to amaze, knew it instinctively.

I might normally have said “he knew it as if he was there.”

Well I had been there, yet could only remember Serena Williams, but not her unexpectedly-victorious German opponent, Angelique Kerber.

My mind clearly wandered from play during that match. Among the things I brought with me were binoculars.

As Serena Williams crumbled I was having a butcher’s over the occupants of the exclusive Royal Box, when I spotted none other than the then first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones.

I was, surely, one of the very few of the fifteen thousand in that jam-packed arena who knew who this chap was – a stark contrast in notability to, say, his devolved Scottish contemporary, the ever-present media mouthpiece Nicola Sturgeon.

And whilst online the other day it struck JW just how much of a comedown Carwyn Jones has had since his departure from the first minister’s office!

Now a backbencher at Cardiff Bay representing Bridgend, the Rt. Hon. Carwyn’s days of being looked at through binoculars are long gone.

He’s gone from hobnobbing with royalty, celebrities and sporting legends on the cushioned seats at SW19, to recording a podcast with a Pembrokeshire County Council cabinet member in an office block somewhere in Cardiff’s Old Brewery Quarter.

I’m of course talking of Jones’ brand new podcast series for Business News Wales, Carwyn Meets.

In his very first episode, Mr. Jones interviews PCC cabinet member for economy, tourism, leisure and culture – and fellow Labour party politician – Cllr. Paul Miller.

Jones, clearly a fan of Pembrokeshire, demonstrates like Miller a genuine interest and impressive personal knowledge of the county, its economy and demographics, even name-checking individual villages and businesses.

Among other topics, the podcast sees the duo discuss agriculture, fishing, the ports, Brexit and tourism.

LISTEN HERE:

The series is premised on Jones interviewing “the movers and shakers of the Welsh economy” including job-creators and policy-makers.

One thing JW reckons Jones and Miller will both agree was a missed economic opportunity for south and west Wales was the long-anticipated Newport M4 relief road.

One of the laughable ‘arguments’ against making radical changes to the M4 was the idea that, any benefits to the traffic flow would be off-set by the increase in traffic using the improved road!

The decision by Jones’ successor as first minister, Mark Drakeford, to can the project allowed the Tories to criticise Welsh Labour for depriving Wales of huge infrastructural investment.

Jones – who happens to be my sister’s assembly member – would surely have assessed this issue in the light of its wider impact and come to a different decision.

Decades in the planning in some way or another, the decision by Mark Drakeford to axe the relief road championed by assembly members including Carwyn Jones, was widely regarded as a foregone conclusion.

Drakeford reputedly made his mind up long before he assumed the highest office in Wales, against much advice.

His decision – or his ‘cabinet’s collective decision’ – also went against the positive recommendation from the year-long public planning inquiry into the proposal.

For free, the Carwyn Meets: Paul Miller podcast was worth every penny.

But I might even pay a subscription fee for the episode Carwyn Meets: Mark Drakeford!

Vote early and vote often

Tuesday sees a rare meeting of the council’s corporate governance committee.

Among the agenda items is a proposal by Cllr. Joshua Beynon that every vote taken by councillors should be recorded.

The obvious way of achieving this would be through the introduction of some sort of electronic voting system, something the old guard at County Hall are, or have previously been, keen to avoid.

It’s not a new proposal but JW reckons Tuesday’s meeeting could be an interesting guide to just how open this ‘new’ council is.

The old arguments for introducing recorded voting were cut dead by officers’ suggestions that, to implement it would cost nearly £100k.

A similar argument is touched upon in the report to Tuesday’s meeting, which also says the introduction of electronic voting at councils is “not without difficulties.”

It bizarrely refers to a former Suffolk councillor who voted twice at a meeting, and who was eventually disqualified as a councillor for a year for “misusing the Council’s electronic voting system”!

There’s also a suggestion that a new system for electronic voting at PCC could be tied into new microphones used for the webcast audio for council meetings, by a brand new system combining both features.

Ever since webcasting was introduced at PCC the audio has been woeful.

Buzzing, mono, low and tinny audio levels are just some of the routine problems – and that’s only if a councillor doesn’t forget to turn on the mic in the first place!

And, chairing the last planning committee meeting, I’ve noticed a new issue where microphones switch themselves off. Not good!

Well, depends on the speaker, I suppose…

So this could be an opportunity to improve the presently sub-standard audio recordings of council meetings, and aid democratic accountability by allowing voters to see exactly how each councillor votes.

Whether PCC has enough councillors who are prepared to permanently record their every vote, or who agree that it’s an opportunity to sort out the audio problems at the same time remains to be seen.

Cllr. Beynon’s proposal may die a death, or it may be subjected to some sort of a fudge by councillors who don’t want to admit that they oppose it but who’ll happily refer it to some other body for further scrutiny and costings.

But it may also lead to big changes for accountability at PCC if councillors bite the bullet – and that’s why I think it could be a debate worth watching.

The corporate governance committee meeting will be held at 2pm on Tuesday (2nd) at County Hall. It’s open to the public to attend personally, or can be watched live at this link, where the recording will also be archived for subsequent viewing.


Share this...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

13 Comments...

  • Malcolm Calver

    Do away with the 800 town and community councillors and half of the sixty county councillors and use money saved.

  • John Hudson

    Having watched the webcast of Corporate Governance committee meeting, I was intrigued to learn that votes are taken by councillors in some way at seminars.

    I thought that such meetings were not decision-making forums. Are you able to explain how the results of such unrepresentative votes are used by the Council?

    I note that attendance at seminars is no longer regarded as public information as it is no longer published, although it qualifies for expenses.

    I was also struck by the concern about the lack of money in the budget to promote the quality of webcasting and electronic recording of votes.

    In my view, the webcasting of recorded votes by ballot at Council, is an unedifying experience that does nothing to enhance the claim of a modern, efficient council.

    The Draft Statement of Accounts 2018/19 (Page 79 – Usable reserves) shows that at 31 March 2019 a balance of £11.3m remained in the transformation reserve.

    I do not think that I have ever seen a list of allocations to projects together with potential benefits or costed savings to be achieved.

    I note that some of this reserve balance relates to a 2017/18 prior year adjustment of £4.390m. Could not the cost of updating and improving the webcasting and voting system be met from this source?

  • Bayard

    I’m not sure whether you are being ironic here, Jacob, when you say: “One of the laughable ‘arguments’ against making radical changes to the M4 was the idea that, any benefits to the traffic flow would be off-set by the increase in traffic using the improved road!” but there is plenty of statistical evidence from previous improvement schemes around the UK that shows that this would be a very likely outcome.

  • John, I’ve been meaning to email you for a few weeks regarding the other issue you raised with me – I will do so shortly. But as for the votes taken at seminars, these are ‘indicative’ votes which I would say, are run by Bob Kilmister to ascertain what decisions councillors can ‘stomach.’

    That is to say, there will be options for councillors to choose from, using electronic devices, and the results are shown at the end, for instance, that ‘a majority of councillors present would support raising council tax by x%.’

    Secret votes at these private, behind-closed-doors events, even ‘indicative’ votes, are rightly a source of controversy among some councillors. Are they ‘meetings’ of the council, or not? It’s back to the James Goudie QC/Dai Boswell territory, I’m afraid.

    Bayard, firstly, I don’t think it’s true – and neither did the planning inspector. Secondly, that sort of ‘argument’ is really a non-argument against making any sort of progress or improvements anywhere.

    It was widely recognised at the inquiry hearings that the increase in traffic is likely to happen whether the new road is built or not. That is the UK trend. The inspector’s report is thorough and on this topic, concludes:

    8.110 It is evident, and in my opinion, unchallengeable, that the scheme in providing an additional modern dual 3-lane motorway free from much local traffic and shorter than the existing M4, would add capacity to the east-west corridor sufficient to offer a high level of service well beyond the design year. The few witnesses asserting that the scheme would be overwhelmed by traffic within a year or two of opening, presented no analysis to back up that view. The compelling evidence, all pointing in the opposite direction exposed these extreme views as illogical. I conclude that there is an overwhelming need for the scheme on traffic grounds and, in being very effective in accommodating M4 corridor traffic well into the future, on the existing motorway and new one, would be sustainable on traffic grounds.

    At the risk of presenting large slabs of text nobody will want to read, the inspector also concludes:

    8.88 There can be no doubt that traffic growth on the M4 has continued over recent years. Applying the published national traffic growth forecasts of Report: APP/16/516215 391 the Department for Transport, conditions on the M4 would be appreciably worse by the design year of 2037 (2039). Those current unsatisfactory conditions would substantially deteriorate not only on the motorway in terms of traffic delays, crashes and incidents but also on the local urban roads in and around Newport which would also need to take even more strain [4.79].

    8.89 On the question of the use of the variable demand traffic model (VDM), the evidence shows that WG has applied current guidance on the use of VDM in an objective and consistent manner. Contrary to objectors’ assertions, induced traffic (in the order of 6% of future flows) has been taken account of, as well as the relieving measures which would come about from the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road improvements and all the other public transport schemes currently being considered in the Newport area [4.69-4.72].

    8.90 A number of objectors suggested the scheme would generate significant levels of induced traffic (that is traffic that previously would not occur but with the motorway in place would be attracted onto the network because of the improved conditions), two claiming that the new road, which would have a large theoretical reserve of capacity relative to the current situation, would consequently be swamped within a year or so of opening. However, all backed away from challenging the details of WG’s traffic analysis and none claimed to be able to construct a traffic model or put a figure on the volume of induced traffic, or future flows [4.69-472].

    8.91 Similarly, I am satisfied from the outcome of the traffic model that traffic induced by the scheme has been assessed and included in the projections which accounts for such movements and that the quantity of carbon generation from induced traffic had been included in the evidence presented to the Inquiry. To my mind the view that carbon from emissions on the network with the scheme in place would be less than without it because it would eradicate stop-start conditions is entirely logical. There was no detailed or compelling evidence to the contrary.

    8.92 I am satisfied that no compelling evidence was presented which demonstrated any deficiency in the traffic model, or the projection from the traffic model of the future traffic and loading on the network with and without the scheme in place. At the Inquiry, and following crossexamination of witnesses, I am satisfied that, whilst a few objectors asserted that the traffic growth predictions had been exaggerated, no objector seriously challenged the traffic evidence presented on behalf of WG. I conclude that it was demonstrably sound throughout and established the basic need for immediate improvement of the M4.

    In any case, this ‘argument’ of ‘induced traffic’ wasn’t cited by Mark Drakeford in his eleven-page rejection letter. I guess he knew it was a load of cobblers, too!

    The inquiry report is so positively in support of the proposal, it makes Mark Drakeford’s decision letter look very questionable in my opinion.

  • PD Blue

    Of course any relief road will have increased traffic using it. Perhaps due to a free M4 bridge!

    Same as the A477 Junction at Waterloo cannot cope with the ever increasing LGV traffic now crossing the ‘Free’ bridge!

  • Well, the point of some campaigners wasn’t quite whether there would be an increase, but whether the highway improvements would create such a significant increase that it would offset or even worsen the pre-existing situation.

    Waterloo junction had its problems long before the Cleddau Bridge tolls were recently scrapped, much like the problems in Newport were experienced long before the recent scrappage of the Severn Bridge – sorry, Prince of Wales Bridge – tolls!

    Indeed, I’m sure most would agree that the change which has had the greatest negative impact at the Waterloo junction was the junction layout changes and traffic light installation, not the scrappage of the bridge tolls further along the road, although I hear the traffic light situation has improved somewhat.

  • John Hudson makes a good point about “voting” at seminars.

    I take the view that voting should be done at public meetings.

    Testing opinion away from the public gaze, and without a proper debate, is undemocratic.

    It is a ruse to enable those in power to get an idea of what they might be able to get away with.

    When this practice has been followed at seminars where I have been present I have always refused to participate.

  • Malcolm Calver

    In my experience county councillors were more inclined to express opinions when they were not in the public eye.

    All council meetings should be open to the public and how about Bob Kilmister putting the question of any proposed increases in council tax by county councillors to a vote of the electorate that pay the charge.

    Maybe I missed it but did any councillors when seeking election actually propose such increases?

  • John Hudson

    The weight that should be given to secret indicative votes would be more valid, if the number of councillors present at seminars was provided and not just the percentage of those in favour.

    The council used to provide annual stats on seminars, which I thought the council had argued were “official” meetings. Such meetings qualify as approved duties for which expenses can be claimed by councillors, but they are not classed as formal meetings of the council as the corporate body to which members are summoned.

    Why are we not allowed to see the attendance record of councillors at seminars and training events? Who and how was it decided that we shouldn’t?

  • The attendance sheets for seminars were always published as part of PCC’s public audit inspection so that it was possible to cross-reference members’ attendance against travel expenses claimed.

    If this is no longer the case, I would hope that “Budget Bob” will see to it that we revert to the status quo ante.

  • John Hudson

    The PCC website offers the following standing information:

    Member Attendance
    2017-2018 Member attendance at meetings
    2016-2017 Member Attendance at Meetings

    Member Attendance at Seminars/Training Events

    Why details of attendance at Seminars/Training Events was, and then was not, available is a question for responsible officers. Is this an oversight or a deliberate decision?

    Perhaps attendance at such non-statutory seminars, given the number held, is an unreasonable expectation on part time councillors, and considered to be of dubious value.

  • Bayard

    “Bayard, firstly, I don’t think it’s true”

    How about the M25, which represented a huge increase in road space and has been congested since it first opened?

    As for the inspector’s comments, think Mandy Rice Davis.

  • I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make about the M25, and the comparison between that, which was the newly-created ring-road for one of the world’s largest cities, and re-routing a short, evidently troublesome stretch of the only motorway in lowly-populated Wales.

    As for the planning inspector’s view, it is well-evidenced. Mark Drakeford’s contrary view placed more emphasis on environmental concerns.

    Although if you’re trying to suggest ministerial interference, you may have noted that the inspectorate is a department of a government which, at the time of the report’s conclusion, was (and had been for six months) headed by the same Mark Drakeford.

  • Have your say...