Jacob Williams
Tuesday 31st March, 2020

Lockdown life

Lockdown life

As we all try our best to get used to lockdown life, there are no end of news stories doing the rounds, and for many, no end of spare time in which to read them.

Among the stories I was sorry to learn of were the recent reports that former Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly member for this region, William Powell, is ‘seriously ill’ in hospital with coronavirus.

Still a Powys county councillor, a statement was issued by Bill’s group on Sunday night saying he was “admitted to Neville Hall Hospital in Abergavenny presenting symptoms of COVID 19 on Thursday 26th March,” where he was “immediately transferred to Intensive Care and placed on a ventilator.”

Mr. Powell is the first person I know who has been diagnosed.

He was in the Pembrokeshire council chamber at County Hall, Haverfordwest, just last month – attending a meeting of the Dyfed-Powys police and crime panel.

And the fact that his outward appearance is of somebody in the rudest of good health, puts his present predicament into greater focus.

We don’t know each other well at all, but our paths crossed a few times five or so years ago as he attended events supporting local efforts to secure the future of Tenby’s embattled cottage hospital, in the face of health board cuts.

It was a long distance for him to travel from Powys each time, but his commitment couldn’t be faulted.

Bill is perhaps best known to a UK audience for showing a similar level of commitment on national television.

This was when he acted as his party’s spokesperson on the night of last April’s Newport West parliamentary by-election.

He was torn into by the BBC’s Andrew Neil – a story I’m sure he won’t mind being repeated!

In a very poor showing for the Lib Dems, their candidate, Ryan Jones, was accused of cowardice by his failure to attend the count.

Fair play to Bill – it would have been far easier for him to have dodged the camera, too. But he stayed until the bitter end, doing the party’s media duties well into the early hours.

In doing so he put himself squarely in the firing line – and subjected himself to a stern grilling by the ever-hawkish veteran.

And how the Scot tore into Powell! Totally demolishing the vague theory of some “long-standing commitment” he’d offered as explanation for Jones’ no-show.

“He’s got a long-standing commitment at ten-past-one in the morning? What sort of long-standing commitment is that? Doesn’t he need a long-standing commitment to the people of Newport West that he wants to represent?” posed Neil.

As Powell tried his best to proceed with his pre-scripted lines, Neil interjected: “He’s in the construction industry!”

“He’s not sticking up a house at ten past one, is he?!”

The grilling was painful and hilarious in equal measure, and following the inevitable coverage it garnered, both Neil and Powell commented on it in good sport.

Indeed Neil went on to say Powell was “dealt a tough hand and he played it best he could. Now he’s making a joke of it. Which is absolutely the right response. Quality.”

I join those who hope Bill can confront his latest adversity with the same spirit.

A loyal reader – who wishes to remain anonymous, can’t think why – has passed on the following photo.

She says the author of that other website has taken to deep conversations with the flora in his greenhouse during the lockdown, which he’s taking very seriously.

But before you start feeling sorry for my correspondent, she sends her snap with the suggested caption: “Man’s refuge?”

All I can say is: it looks like an arrangement that’s sure to keep everyone happy!

Here are a couple of my most recent Facebook posts:

MANDATORY CORONAVIRUS POST: In these uncertain times, as we come to terms with the gravity of the situation, I just wanted to let everybody know that I’m thinking of them. I am of course referring to yesterday’s devastating news that this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has been cancelled.

COVID-19 has a lot to answer for, but this really puts it into perspective. And, as countless others have observed, you know things are deadly serious when the Irish government bans pub-going on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day.

What official guidance that’s out there is well publicised, if not already obvious. But during self-isolation or potential lockdowns, we might consider how this is an unprecedented situation in modern times, and that whoever was in government or whichever party was in control – whether at a local, Wales or UK level – they would all be responding in what they believed to be the public interest to an awful, fast-developing situation.

They will also be criticised by some for not planning well enough ahead, not knowing which advice to give right now, and for inconsistencies. But it’s worth bearing in mind that answers to many of the most elementary questions posed by citizens at this stage – on medical, financial, and other issues – cannot be given with certainty.

There is, necessarily, an element of adapting to the novel situation – making things up as we proceed, guided by science. I say science, and not scientists, because scientists may – and clearly do – have their own opinions on different countries’ responses.

Among other things, tireless efforts are being made to identify an effective inoculation, and to research testing methods – for instance identifying those who’ve previously had it with or without symptoms, but recovered. It’s a slow business.

To put the current societal and political uncertainty into a little perspective, it’s worth considering the scientific uncertainty that exists, too. Science does not yet know if it’s possible, or if so, how likely it is, for a person who has had the all-clear from COVID-19 to contract it again. All efforts are being made by leading countries’ scientists to discover the answers to all sorts of questions over immunity, vaccination, and others.

What is affecting people most at this stage, far more than the virus itself, is the impact of the political decisions being made in the public interest – and the decisions and behaviour of some individuals – in response to the virus. They will unfortunately have undesirable and unintended consequences which will be devastating for individuals, families and businesses.

There is no universal procedure manual setting out the one-and-only way of responding to a COVID-19-type spread. Just as the virus doesn’t discriminate, the political responses are being made in the broader national interest, too – potentially blindly. The changes to our way of life will probably last far longer than a few months – and the worldwide financial and societal impact of the pandemic will be enormous.

But amid the doom and gloom, let’s invoke the British Bulldog spirit, and try to keep our peckers up – at a safe distance from each other and without touching, of course.

On that note, looking on the plus side, newly-Brexited Britain will now be spared the indignity of an almost-guaranteed “nul points,” and perhaps the even greater national shame: scenes of some Union Jack-clad pub singer brown-nosing for unforthcoming votes from our continental counterparts…

Take care of yourselves, and each other!

Posted by Jacob Williams – jacobwilliams.com on Thursday, 19 March 2020

LOCKDOWN RUMINATIONS #2: The two-metre rule was very closely observed, yesterday morning at County Hall, as councillors attended an extraordinary meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s urgency committee.
Councillors on the small committee were making a decision, on the whole council’s behalf, to introduce a temporary protocol which will allow decisions to be made on those planning applications which, in normal times, would come before the planning committee. Before leaving County Hall – my first visit there in weeks – I took the opportunity to have a brief chat on the coronavirus situation with the council’s leader, Cllr. David Simpson, where I thanked him for his role and the council’s response to the epidemic to date. Even I was surprised at his direct level of involvement in discussions and planning with the health board and other partner organisations. I came away from County Hall with a renewed appreciation for the gravity of the present situation and, ultimately, for what might be in store for people who may, right now, appear to be in fine health. I’ll mention one example of the sort of topics being discussed, not to be alarmist but because I think it might make people think. As one of the local authorities in Wales which operates a municipal crematorium, Pembrokeshire County Council is party to the sort of emergency planning that I, as a local councillor, never imagined would be necessary in modern times. What can help right now – and the evidence since the lockdown appears to back this up – is even the simplest efforts we, as individuals, might make to prevent the spread of the virus. It might not be fashionable, not that I’ve ever been led by trends in any case, but I haven’t seen many people wearing face coverings. If you put yourself in close proximity to others who don’t live in the same dwelling as you – going to the supermarket, for example – then consider it!

Posted by Jacob Williams – jacobwilliams.com on Tuesday, 31 March 2020


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6 Comments...

  • Liked the photo with the face mask.

    Huge improvement!

  • But why stop halfway?

    If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!

  • Wynne

    Just viewed webcast. Interesting to see if regulations will be made by Welsh Government to allow elected Councillors [not appointed Officers] to remain in control of the Development Management [Planning] process during this difficult time.

  • John Hudson

    The regulations for all local authority meetings are to be determined by Welsh Ministers under Section 78 of the Coronovirus Act and are quite wide. We will have to see how officers interpret these regulations and what councillors make of them, including the necessary IT requirements:

    S 78 Local authority meetings

    (1)The relevant national authority may by regulations make provision relating to –
    (a) requirements to hold local authority meetings;
    (b) the times at or by which, periods within which, or frequency with which, local authority meetings are to be held;
    (c) the places at which local authority meetings are to be held;
    (d) the manner in which persons may attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings;
    (e) public admission and access to local authority meetings;
    (f) the places at which, and manner in which, documents relating to local authority meetings are to be open to inspection by, or otherwise available to, members of the public.

    (2) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (1)(d) includes in particular provision for persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place.

    (3) The regulations may make provision only in relation to local authority meetings required to be held, or held, before 7 May 2021.

    (4) The power to make regulations under this section includes power –
    (a) to disapply or modify any provision of an enactment or subordinate legislation;
    (b) to make different provision for different purposes;
    (c) to make consequential, supplementary, incidental, transitional or saving provision.

    (5) In this section the “relevant national authority” means—
    (a) in relation to local authorities in England, the Secretary of State;
    (b) in relation to local authorities in Wales, the Welsh Ministers;
    (c) in relation to local authorities in Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland.

    (6) In this section “local authority meeting” means a meeting of –
    (a) a local authority;
    (b) an executive of a local authority (within the meaning of Part 1A or 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 or Part 6 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014);
    (c) a joint committee of two or more local authorities;
    (d) a committee or sub-committee of anything within paragraphs (a) to (c). (Continued).

  • Hi John, as you may be aware, the new temporary regulations applying to English councils was published today, effective tomorrow:

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/392/contents/made

    The Welsh Government’s equivalent for Wales is still awaited.

  • John Hudson

    Thanks Jacob, and thanks to the councillors on the Urgency Committee who were not persuaded to take a back seat from their statutory responsibility for the continuance of the democratic process.

    I expect that the Welsh “remote attendance” and “public access” regulations may well closely follow those for the English as set out in Part 2 and 3 of the published reg.

    Hopefully these, discretionary arrangements, as approved by our councillors, will impose requirements on officers to publish agendas and reports for councillors to consider before they participate in remote meetings.

    That is always providing officers can be persuaded to allocate resources to put in place and councillors are up to participate. This may be a way forward to permanently “open up” more agile and modern ways of committee/council working including electronic accountable voting. Keep safe and well.

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