Jacob Williams
Wednesday, 4th May, 2022

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Just browsing

We’ll have to wait until Friday’s vote count to know who they are, but Pembrokeshire’s new cohort of councillors emerging from tomorrow’s local elections may never experience a pre-pandemic-style full council chamber.

Fully remote meetings – where everybody attends through an online video conferencing platform – have run well at PCC in my opinion, despite problems, although I know many councillors can’t stand this way of doing things.

Attempts by the authority to run hybrid meetings – the inherently difficult format where some attend from home, while others are there in person – have been beset by technical difficulties.

One thing we know for sure though is that, due to legal changes brought in by Cardiff Bay, we’ll have to get used to it.

The option of remote attendance will be the future for local government in Wales, a change so far resisted in England.

I’m given to understand that all councillors will be able to attend the first AGM of Pembrokeshire’s newly-elected county council – on 26th May – in the council chamber.

Not since 27th February, 2020, has an assembly of all councillors been held at County Hall.

One of the benefits of the covid-necessitated move to holding remote council and committee meetings has been convenience.

It’s allowed councillors to attend meetings, or not, from anywhere – provided they have access to the necessary technology.

I’ve got quite the setup, and join meetings from my desk with my trusty feline friend Trixie keeping me in check at mission control.

Click for the committee catfight video

Very occasionally, Kitty (the really nosy cat who thinks she’s a human) will show an interest and join me – always fleetingly, most famously when caught on camera swiping at Trixie, with whom she gets on well despite video evidence to the contrary!

Up top in these webcam meetings I may be presenting a posh jacket and tie “looking like something out of Burton’s window,” as Old Grumpy, the author of that other website puts it.

But even the highest-ranking officer of the fashion police has no clue that, under my desk is lurking the elasticated waistband and lime green Crocs of doom.

Humans are social animals, and the loss of the tea room/council chamber interaction is a big downside.

But remote meetings do also bring with them many newly-found insights into people’s inner sanctums.

As any observer of human behaviour will tell you, seeing and hearing people in their own territory can give away a lot more than would be the case in other settings.

Whether it’s Ken Rowlands’ loud quarter-chiming wall clock which cuts through everything in its path, or an oblivious Phil Kidney caught singing 80s rock, the people-watchers (and listeners) have been given a lot to go on.

There’s Tony Baron’s unreasonably large book collection. Peter Morgan’s on-mic f-bomb. As each meeting goes by, we’ve gained some rather charming and often humanising insights to our elected representatives’ daily lives that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

Jamie Adams’ saintlike patience when interrupted by his young kids just as he’s getting to his point, and Aaron Carey’s hopeless fight against the broadband and microphone gods – every meeting without fail – reminds us that the struggle in this, the so-called digital age, is real.

Some of it has even been compelling.

That time I saw Brian Hall ruthlessly demolishing a ham butty (white, probably no mustard) in his living room was up there with any wildlife documentary’s hunt scene, for me. It didn’t stand a chance.

I must admit my people-watching has also led to an ever-growing list of nosy questions to which I know I deserve no answer.

Is the meaning of life to be found somewhere inside David Bryan’s generous filing cabinet?

Could John Davies not find bigger headphones?

When in-person meetings resume, will Tim Evans continue to start every contribution with a lengthy pause followed by: “can you hear me?”

Where does that small door high up behind Di Clements lead to, and who could possibly fit through it?

Why does Bob Kilmister need such an industrial-sized printer?

When did David Howlett’s treadmill last fulfil its primary purpose?

Best insight so far, though – for me, at least – came at the expense of Conservative group leader, Cllr. Rob Summons.

It’s no secret that, over the years, Rob’s been an avid reader of this blog. It’s also no secret that he likes to play down his keen interest!

A few months back during a remote meeting he inadvertently shared his screen to all participants.

He scrambled to stop it – but not before the damage was done.

Critically, at this key moment, Bob’s web browser was open. He must have been mortified at what we got to see.

Now you might think the following bombshell couldn’t possibly have been a more embarrassing revelation than the porn his party’s MP Neil Parish was caught ogling in the House of Commons chamber, last week.

Well I reckon it’s right up there with prurient Parish’s parliamentary porn-peeping.

Pride of place in Bob’s browser was a bookmark for jacobwilliams.com!

We cannot discount the possibility that this devastating blow to the former constable’s authority led Summons to retire at this election.

His only redemption? No bookmark for OldGrumpy.co.uk was anywhere to be seen…


  • John Hudson

    Sorry Jacob, but as an old codger I find the remote meetings frustrating to follow and a complete turn off.

    There must be a democratic downside to all members in not having the opportunity to meet informally, cross party, in the members’ tea room. With so many “unaligned”, how are they to garner support for projects they want to initiate and get support for?

    Are electors best served by continuation of remote working?

  • Bob Kilmister’s downfall in this election is a reminder that, as Enoch Powell said, all political careers end in failure.

    It is indeed a cruel business that can, in the couple of hours it takes to count the votes, transform you from budget supremo with control over £250 million of public money into a political has-been.

    It’s a risk we all take and is probably the reason why 19 of the 60 seats were uncontested.

    It is a fate that I have so far avoided (there but for the grace of God etc) but it’s nevertheless a possibility that haunts you every time you allow your name to appear on the ballot paper.

    Bob and I have not always seen eye to eye, but there is no doubting his sincere desire to do his best for the people of Pembrokeshire.

    We should all wish him a long and happy retirement.

  • Martin Lewis

    Couple of big names disposed of to the bucket of history.

    Let’s hope Jamie Adams doesn’t get enough support from the indies on the council to become leader again. I think Simpson’s name is mud as well but literally anyone is better than Adams.

  • As for Bob ‘Browser’ Summons, we can only assume he was seeking relief from the tedium of leading the Conservative group with a bit of puerile nonsense.

  • Malcolm Calver

    To Mike I would say you might think Bob had the sincere desire to do his best for the people of Pembrokeshire, but for those in the county who actually pay council tax he and the administration will be remembered for increasing the cost rather reducing the cost and size of the burden known as “Pembrokeshire County Council”.

  • John Hudson

    As the cabinet member with responsibility for finance, Bob Kilmister did attempt to put some rigour and political direction into the budget process, for which should be recognised. Before him, this was a an area sacrosanct to officers’ advice only.

    However, in a council with majority membership of independent councillors, he only had persuasion as a tool, and voting as an expression of preferences at closed, secret members-only seminars which were not decision-making meetings of the authority.

    It was probably unfair to leave this job to one councillor, advised by serried ranks of officers keen to protect their patches.

    I would point out that the council, in total, has a gross annual revenue budget of some £380,000,000 in its care on our behalf, not just the £250,000,000 mentioned by Mike and other councillors. How well the council PR machine works.

  • Mark Carter

    For me, the low point of the last two years was Brian Hall chairing a Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting wearing some open plan shorts and the camera set at just the wrong angle.

    I have not eaten a rissole since.

  • John Hudson

    Congratulations Jacob, are you able to update us on the horse trading to join a political group that comes to light, please?

    Also of some interest will be any news of the “grant” investigation by the audit committee. I guess it is still on the books of that committee.

  • Michael Williams

    Bob Kilmister is a major loss, he totally mastered the finance brief answering every question without reference to finance officers.

    Without any doubt this portfolio damaged Bob’s health. We all owe Bob a great debt of gratitude for his work. It’s so easy to lurk in the long grass and criticise as so many of your contributors have demonstrated over many years. Thank you Bob.

  • John Hudson

    I thought this cabinet job an impossibility for one single member, being caught in the middle of spending officers’ demands to meet the established needs of their services and the diverse demands of the body of 60 disparate councillors. Cabinet collectively has the constitutional responsibility for financial monitoring and control.

    Bob certainly highlighted the widening gap in external financial support and need, due to the inherited lowest council tax in Wales policy from previous administrations.

    The fact that the council could not achieve its planned identified and council-approved annual budget reductions owes more to ineffective, if not absent, regular service monitoring and scrutiny challenge by O&S committees.

    Unachieved net savings in expenditure and income were allowed to be racked up during the year and rolled forward into the next financial year at the year end. All being masked in the overall focus of the end of year balanced net budget/actual or council tax financed requirement.

    It is time perhaps for the council’s finances to be subject to a shared political formal cabinet finance sub-committee of all cabinet members under the oversight of the cabinet member with responsibility for finance, rather than left to one lone member.

  • Malcolm Calver

    The one question or request Cllr Kilmister did answer was from Cllr Michael Williams and Plaid Cymru constantly calling for the council tax on second homes to be increased, knowing full well that the owners could not vote against councillors who supported the charge.

    You would have thought Cllr Williams would be looking to the future and trying to assist council taxpayers by calling for a reduction in or at least a freeze on council tax for the next five years.

  • Michael Hart

    Jacob, according to the PCC website the following new members have joined the Jamie Adams’ Independent Group: Delme Harries (Bro Gwaun), Huw Murphy (Newport and Dinas), Shon Midway Rees (Crymych and Mynachlog-ddu), Iwan Ward (Boncath and Clydau) and Simon Wright (Maenclochog).

    I wonder if when they were campaigning they were honest enough to let their electorate know that this was their intention.

  • Mark

    Michael Williams you have sustained a fifty year political career on lurking critically in the long grass!

    I agree with your commiserations about Budget Bob (he was dedicated however no expert as some make out) yet you say nothing about the same fate that befell so many of your Plaid Cymru colleagues.

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