Jacob Williams
Tuesday 10th March, 2015
Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining

Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining

Recent goings-on have allowed County Hall to retain its ‘Kremlin on Cleddau’ moniker despite claims you may hear that the place is heading into the blinding light of a new era.

There may be hope where previously none existed in the corridors of power, but the following unfortunate bungle which panned out at the end of last month and beginning of this one has cemented my view that comparisons with Putin’s Russia needn’t be resigned to history yet.

With its transmission crunching and grinding somewhere between reverse, neutral, and first gear, the vehicle responsible for this miraculous journey of improvement seems to be going nowhere, fast.

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On February 9th the county council’s cabinet met and decided to close down community learning centres around the county and move the day and evening classes taught in them to other community venues.

As so often with the (elected) cabinet, their sweeping decision was a bolt from the blue, had never been a proposal subjected to consultation, and their scrutiny of the (unelected) officers’ idea was practically non-existent.

Like many others in the county, the first I heard of the proposal to axe the centres was when the cabinet agenda was published the week before the meeting.

The whole decision was, ostensibly, blamed as a necessary response to the Welsh Government’s funding cut, yet the director’s report on which it was based contained just one pound sign – Cardiff Bay’s cut. The true savings achieved by closing down centres is much more on top, none of which was worked out.

The report also contained statements as fact which couldn’t possibly be known to be true, like “there will be no impact from these changes on the range of courses or opportunities.”

Perhaps most alarmingly, despite going as far as approving staggered closure dates for the centres – starting in August this year – cabinet also gave the green light to a public consultation.

In effect, providing the public the opportunity to express their views on a decision already taken, which, when it was merely a proposal, nobody knew was on the table. Only in Pembrokeshire!

Knowing the poor evidence base for the decision, that the report misleadingly blamed the Welsh Government’s funding cuts when the closures would save much more besides, and that no workings-out or other options were provided to cabinet, I decided I wasn’t going to allow them to get away with it so easily.

So for the first time since becoming a councillor in 2012 I set about my first cabinet decision call-in – a mechanism which allows councillors to apply the brakes to a cabinet decision pending further scrutiny by an overview and scrutiny committee.

O&S committees have no power to change or make a new decision, or even order a new one to be made, but they can refer it back to cabinet for reconsideration with comments and suggestions. Alternatively they can agree to take no further action, in which case the cabinet’s decision stands as it was made and takes effect from the date the O&S committee meets to consider the call-in.

There are two ways a councillor can call-in a cabinet decision to an O&S committee: 1) by asking the committee chairman, or 2) by submitting a call-in request signed by four (in total) O&S committee councillors to the authority’s head of legal and committee services.

Following cabinet’s monthly meetings a list is produced of the relevant overview and scrutiny committees for each decision made. More often than not only one committee is listed, but, occasionally where the topic of a cabinet decision includes the remits of more than one, all relevant committees are stipulated.

For cabinet’s decision to close CLCs, two O&S committees were listed – older persons and children and families.

Since no reasonable person with even a simplistic understanding of the council’s affairs could argue that the most appropriate committee of the two was children and families, on my call-in I stipulated the older persons committee, or, to give it its full title: older persons, health and well-being overview and scrutiny committee.

A unique requirement of PCC call-ins – which some would say is unreasonable in an expansive rural county like ours – is that all signatures must be on the same physical sheet of paper. This can involve travelling large distances and makes arranging convenient times difficult.

Another requirement is that cabinet call-ins must be lodged within three days of the decision – which only leaves a small window after the cabinet meeting to complete an already onerous logistical task.

I didn’t fancy traipsing around the county for signatures if I could achieve the call-in with the permission of the committee chairman alone, so I picked up the telephone.

I rang the older persons committee chairman, Cllr. David Bryan, and briefly set out my case to a positive reception – he said he was willing to call it in.

This came as a relief because it meant I didn’t need to rush around for the signatures. That being the case, we ended the call on the agreement that I would draft my reasons in writing and email them to him the following day, Wednesday 11th February.

The next morning, before I had a chance to email Cllr. Bryan, he rang me to say he’d had a change of mind over my request. He was now refusing to call-in cabinet’s decision to his committee as he didn’t think it was worthy of further scrutiny and he felt it contained sufficient safeguards.

Immediately after this bombshell I dialled Cllr. Pat Davies in Fishguard, for a good moan. I expected her to be as shocked as I was at Cllr. Bryan’s U-turn, and provide a shoulder for me to cry on.

Cllr. Davies is the chair of the children and families O&S committee. The previous day Pat and I had a long chat over the phone about my call-in bid, where she gave me every indication that she supported my effort – indeed, she was encouraging, and said she believed it fell within Cllr. Bryan’s committee’s remit.

Readers can only imagine my surprise when Pat told me that she, too, had had a change of mind and agreed with Cllr. Bryan’s refusal to call-in cabinet’s decision to close the CLCs, and said if she was in his shoes she would refuse to call it in too!

So with a total lack of support from either of the relevant O&S committee chairs I was left with no option but to collect the four councillors’ signatures – from a standing start – and now with only one full day left to do it.

Thankfully I managed to get them on board with a few hours to spare, and I’m grateful to Cllrs. Tessa Hodgson, Jonathan Preston, Peter Stock and Vivien Stoddart for their willingness to lend support.

On the afternoon of Thursday 12th I duly sent off my call-in requisition to the newly-promoted head of legal and committee services, Claire Incledon.

Six days later Mrs. Incledon arranged for cabinet’s decision to be put on hold and referred my call-in to a joint committee meeting of the older persons O&S as well as the children and families O&S. The agenda and report was published another six days later.

But there was a problem with this.

On 25th February, the day after the agenda for the joint O&S meeting was published, Cllr. Mike Stoddart alerted officers that the referral of my call-in to two committees went strictly against the constitution which requires a call-in to be referred to just one committee.

Constitution call-in section

This part of the constitution wasn’t followed

The only discretion available to the head of legal and committee services is that if he/she believes the O&S committee specified on a call-in request is not the most appropriate, he/she must make a decision to refer it to “the most appropriate Committee.”

This means even if multiple committees are specified with the remit for a decision subject to call-in, it has to be referred to just one of them, determined by the head of legal and committee services, who is also required to set out an explanation “stating the reasons why that Committee is deemed to be the most appropriate if a choice has had to be made.”

A joint meeting of two committees doesn’t tally with “the most appropriate Committee” by any stretch, so you’d be forgiven for assuming Cllr. Stoddart had presented a conclusive argument that the constitution had been ignored.

As an example of the practical difficulties arising from the referral of my call-in to a joint meeting of two committees, consider that the constitution requires any non-O&S committee councillor who wishes to address a call-in debate – this includes me – to seek the prior permission of the committee chair.

As the first item on the agenda of this planned joint meeting was to appoint a chair, non-O&S committee members would have no way of knowing who the chairman was to lobby for their permission to speak until the meeting had already got under way.

Of course, had the call-in been directed to the single committee, no issues would have arisen – a clue, perhaps, why the constitution is so specific on call-ins, and why it should have been followed to the letter.

Advisory Note

The ‘Advisory Note’ to councillors involved no external legal advice [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

As the meeting approached I also raised my own queries. Things developed somewhat at noon on Monday 2nd March, the day before the planned meeting, when all councillors were emailed an ‘Advisory Note’ setting out why any concerns expressed about the joint meeting were misguided.

It acknowledged that the joint meeting of two committees “may not be the anticipated and usual process,” but said that it was not “unconstitutional as alleged,” and claimed that the two committees would be “sitting as two separate Committees” which “saves on officer & Member time and unnecessary duplication, and ensures consistency in consideration of the matter; and provides a sensible and reasonable way forward.”

In addition, it stated that any councillor who sat as a member of both committees would have two votes, and had all the makings of a municipal game of piggy in the middle with the suggestion “that Members of one Committee sit on one side of the Committee room, the other Committee sit on the other side, and those Members that sit on both Committees can sit between the two.”

Not for the first time at County Hall, councillors knew they were right – that the constitution had been breached and the referral should have gone to one committee and not two – but were powerless.

Within hours of the advisory missive, the acting head of paid service, Ian Westley, intervened.

At 6pm on Monday night, only hours before the meeting which was supposed to take place at 10am the following morning, Mr. Westley emailed councillors to say that the meeting had been cancelled as a result of “further consideration of Procedure Rules.” [Procedure rules make up the constitution.]

Nothing more, nothing less. Statuses were also posted on the authority’s social media and website announcing the cancellation.

It wasn’t until the following morning – after the meeting’s proposed start time – that a press release was issued from County Hall which contains (so far) the only official ‘detail’ on the reason for the last minute cancellation:

“It was felt that procedurally the meeting would have been overly bureaucratic.”

Given the mishandling of the call-in, the unconstitutionality of the meeting had it gone ahead and the forthright denials of any failure to observe the constitution, to say that the meeting was cancelled because it was felt it would be ‘overly bureaucratic’ was the very definition of spin.

After all, this was the very same ‘overly bureaucratic’ meeting which, hours earlier you’ll recall was deemed hunky-dory in the email to councillors which claimed it: “ensures consistency in consideration of the matter,” that it “saves on officer & Member time and unnecessary duplication” and “provides a sensible and reasonable way forward.”

Laurence Harding call-in email

Monitoring officer’s email to councillors [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

The following day, amid allegations that this was one of the worst excuses ever known and a leading example of the council spinning its way out of trouble to avoid any admission of human error, the authority’s outgoing monitoring officer, Laurence Harding, waded in.

Mr. Harding advanced the ‘overly bureaucratic’ line, denying claims that the call-in was bungled and said the meeting was cancelled “due to perceived difficulties in the procedure for such a meeting.”

Acknowledging that the letter of the law as laid out in the constitution requires a call-in to be referred to the one committee which is most appropriate, the monitoring officer explained to councillors that what we had here was an occasion “In the real world” where the subject matter relative to each committee can “have responsibility in tandem.”

All the while us lot have been reading the constitution as shades of black and white, it seems we may have been better served adopting the fifty shades of grey approach.

Yet, even with the best will in the world and an acceptance that not everything is black and white, this couldn’t possibly overcome the constitution’s clear stipulation that a cabinet decision call-in must be referred to “the most appropriate Committee” and not “Committees.”

But Mr. Harding had an answer for this slam dunk argument too – and it’s what he saved for his pièce de résistance. Very possibly his swansong.

The monitoring officer claims that:

“The ‘most appropriate committee’ may therefore be more than one.”

Proof, if ever more was needed, that there’s no level playing field at County Hall – a place known to many as the Kremlin on Cleddau, which, to borrow a phrase, isn’t “in the real world.”

A place where what you see isn’t necessarily what you’ll get. A place where ordinary words and sentences don’t have their ordinary meanings, where the singular can mean the plural, and where a bungled meeting branded as “sensible and reasonable” in a sexed-up ‘Advisory Note’ at lunchtime can be cancelled before supper because it would be ‘overly bureaucratic.’

In an email to councillors on Thursday I said that the ‘overly bureaucratic’ excuse brought to my mind the saying: “don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

The following day’s revelation that “the ‘most appropriate committee’ may therefore be more than one” has identified many more who can tell the difference between precipitation and warm urine.

The future of the cabinet scrutiny call-in is still up in the air. Call-in meetings have to be arranged (but not held) within ten days of the call-in submission, which lapsed towards the end of last month. So the constitutional bungle may have dealt the call-in a terminal blow, allowing cabinet’s decision to get away without any scrutiny. I understand efforts are being made to argue a way around this pitfall, but nothing has yet been confirmed.

The following article is reproduced with the kind permission of the Pembrokeshire Herald, from its most recent edition. The comments within the final three paragraphs were actually made by Cllr. Tessa Hodgson in an email to all councillors, not Cllr. David Simpson, as attributed.

Pembrokehsire Herald March 6th

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  • John Hudson

    How naïve to think that the Constitution was there to enable Councillors, many of whom do not sit on appropriate O&S Committees, to represent the interests of their constituents.

    How right to challenge Cabinet decisions to close services on grounds of finance without any details of costs/savings being known.

    The Cabinet agreed to consider closing markets without knowing, or worse even bothering to find out, about the costs/savings involved. At the public inspection of the 2013/14 accounts, I was provided with information that showed two of our three markets, Haverfordwest and Fishguard, actually returned a profit.

    However, once unallocated general and central service costs were added, the market service as a whole could be shown to cost the council money. Not enough is known about these unreported, unscrutinised, central costs or overheads that are allocated over services.

    Still this “loss” argument supports the Council’s ( officers’?) plan to relocate the Haverfordwest Library into the market). Possibly the closure of the Haverfordwest Community Learning Centre could have something to do with the potential clearance of the old library, Com Ed Centre, old Registry Office and old swimming pool site to enable it to be sold off and for the proceeds to be allocated to the priority 21st Century Schools programme. What shady deals are being cooked up behind closed doors?

    Surely there is nothing wrong in full financial details of potential costs/savings benefits and other considerations being known in order to facilitate fully informed public consultation?

    Is the relationship between O&S committee chairmen and the administration too cosy?

  • Sealight

    If the cabinet scrutiny call-in is not convened because of the time limit being exceeded this will indeed be a travesty of justice.

    The deadline has not been met because of “overly bureaucratic” incompetence by Council Officers; and possibly Cabinet members.

    Elected Councillors and their electorate should not have their right of review stolen from them by procedural failure.

  • Welshman 23

    There are rumours that certain areas will lose their school patrol operatives, saving a massive £20k per annum. Surely the safety of our children should be top of the list. Just remove a couple of councillors who offer no value, this will save the same amount of money.

    All these flash names we give to senior officers, let’s start the cull at the top. For instance the legal department seems to be taking external advice on everything at a huge cost to the ratepayers of Pembrokeshire.

  • Flashbang

    It certainly has the hallmarks of a derailment of your call in. The question is, if so, who is responsible and is it legal? It should be a simple matter to investigate.

    Surely the time has come for a full investigation into the dealings of this blatantly corrupt council to be undertaken. A Royal commission should have the clout to uncover all the shady deals and players.

  • Quill

    What a mangled car wreck this call-in has turned into. And this balls-up could mean Cabinet’s decision will never now be scrutinised. Which plays right into the hands of Jamie and Co.!

    You could almost say they were saved from the ridicule of criticism in a public forum of their failures as a cabinet by sheer fortune. Fortunately for them a strong steer into the hedge did the business.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Jacob, with county councillors like Cllr Patricia Davies and Cllr David Bryan it is a good job you have youth on your side.

  • Brian

    Be interested to hear about the appointment process for ‘Laurel & Hardy’s’ relief when the incumbent moves on in April. Seems that is a key role with extraordinary influence that should be very closely scrutinised – and ideally by those outside of the politburo.

  • Faux Espoir

    A candid approach to overcoming this would be required, driven by the appropriate O&S committee through the Chairman. Does the Constitution not allow for an emergency meeting to be called of the committee? Have the two Chairmen of the O&S committees operated outside of their remit; have conversations been had under the table and on whose direction?

    With reference to the head of legal, it brings into question just how much the previous Chief Executive influenced/guided the department.

    Consultation seems to be a key word for Pembrokeshire Council at the moment. Can there be a consultation on the current Council Chamber to see if its fit for purpose? An outside body to define the Council’s Constitution but what is required is a complete root and branch review of governance in Pembrokeshire at a local level.

  • Timetraveller

    The running of this authority is essentially in the hands of a select group of people with only nominal oversight by the cabinet. Probably 99% of council activities that are conducted are decided by officials, but the 1% that the elected members determine represents the bedrock of democracy and should ensure that the overall conduct of officials is accountable.

    In this instance the Head of Legal has exceeded her authority and is the primary reason for the democratic process to have been derailed. She would no doubt like to pass this off as a genuine error, that is debatable. If this was deliberate, her professional standing should be untenable.

    At the very least (accepting it was a mistake, whether we like it or not), she should be disciplined – probably a warning that such “mistakes” could amount to professional misconduct in future.

    The question is disciplined by whom? This is an authority operating in the “dead space” between the police, Ombudsman and various other regulators. It could also be a potential issue for the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, with whom she has to be registered to qualify for her position.

    The elected body could also conduct their own process of course, though of course the public are having less and less confidence in the ability of this authority to maintain acceptable standards of governance.

  • Fishguard Boy

    I had to read your piece several times as I could not believe what I was reading regarding the behaviour of Fishguard councillor Pat Davies.

    She had her picture on the front page of the County Echo saying she was angry at the decision and the way the decision had been sprung on her in the Cabinet papers. The next week, as reported in the County Echo, she spoke at the Town Council meeting urging the community to get involved and do whatever is necessary to keep our centre open.

    Now I read that she refused to use her power as Committee Chair to call this decision in for scrutiny before she appeared on the front page of the Echo or before the Town Council. She has questions to answer not least who ‘changed her mind’ over the call in and why?

    It appears to me she has let the users of the centre down, very badly, and misled the Town Council and the voters in her ward. Why did she cave into pressure or has some shady deal been done that has yet to emerge from a smoke filled room!!!

  • Welshman 23

    Is there anything that can be done? I think not. We go from one disaster to another yet no one has fallen on their swords. The police, WAO to name a few have been involved but no prosecutions. It would seem that if you are a councillor you are immune from everything. The BPJ fiasco was handled very badly and yet the people who authorised these pay increases seem to be getting away. Roll on 2016.

  • John Hudson

    A bit off key, but still within the realm of proper official professional advice given to Councillors: I have just looked up the 30 March 2006 CEO Pay Award decision of the Staff Committee.

    It would appear that this worthy committee: “noted that the review (for a recommended revised salary scale) related solely to the Chief Executive’s salary as part of his personal contract of employment and stood apart from other members of staff.”

    If the earlier decision to establish a link was not rescinded, how could the Senior Staff Committee reach its decision? Was there a CEO salary that was part of his personal contract of employment, but separate from his salary that was used as a basis for his linked salary?

    Is this more legal smoke and mirrors, and where is the advice confirming that the link could be disregarded? An essential relevant consideration, I would have thought.

    Says a lot about senior officers if they cannot even ensure their own salary rights, unless they were in some way “sat on”. Unfortunately the Minutes do not record the officers that were present at the meeting.

  • Kate Becton

    I think that I shall soon be posting under the name ‘confused.com’. Can I ask, Jacob, to which committee you directed the call-in?

    I am unsure as to whether you sent it to the Older Persons Committee alone – if this was so, by what power does an officer refer it to two Committees?

    I do feel very strongly that the call-in should not be forfeited – unelected officers clearly received a legitimate instruction (perhaps a ‘strong steer’) – from elected Councillors and are, in effect, blocking the democratic process.

    This cannot be allowed to happen and, as Timetraveller has said, could amount to professional misconduct.

    Once again, all together now, EXTERNAL LEGAL OPINION, I repeat my previous question, is there anything that the authority’s Legal Department can actually DO?

  • Hi Kate, I called-in the decision to the older persons O&S. There was no power for anybody to refer it to both the older persons and children and families O&S, which is why the constitution wasn’t followed.

    The constitution could allow the head of legal and committee services to refer it instead to the children and families committee, if he/she felt that was more appropriate than the older persons O&S I specified, but as I’ve suggested, nobody of sound mind could argue that children and families was a more appropriate committee than older persons O&S.

    As an aside, it may interest some to learn that on the children and families committee the IPPG has a very healthy 10-5 majority over opposition councillors, whereas on the older persons committee the ruling party’s stranglehold is much weaker, with a majority of just 8-7.

    Welshman – I’m not sure what you’re looking forward to in 2016, the next council elections are scheduled for 2017, and could possibly even be postponed until 2018 as part of the ongoing review of Welsh local governance.

  • Jacob, with regard to the political balance on the children and families committee, this is distorted by the presence of four co-opted members from the educational establishment taking its strength to 19 (15 elected and four co-opted).

    The statutory rules provide that the majority group on the council (IPPG) must have a majority on all committees i.e IPPG ten, the rest nine.

    However, the children and families O&S committee is a bit of a mongrel because it deals with both educational issues (when the co-opted members have a vote) and other matters e.g. youth service provision, when they don’t.

    So, in these latter class of issues, the IPPG has a 10:5 majority, which is contrary to the statutory rules.

    It is not altogether clear which category these community learning centres fall into because, while they concern education in the wider sense, there is an argument that “education” in this case refers to schools.

    That is supported by the fact that the four co-opted members comprise two parent members of school governing bodies and representatives from the Church in Wales and the Roman Catholic church.

    And, if further evidence is required, I would point out that none of these co-opted members were invited to attend the original, now cancelled, unconstitutional joint meeting of the two committees.

    Clearly, if this is an issue on which they had voting rights, they should have been so invited.

  • Malcolm Calver

    According to Fishguard Boy’s comment, Cllr Patricia Davies (Labour) was saying one thing to the press and acting differently regarding the issue at County Hall, when she could have done something about it.

    We also have Cllr David Bryan (Conservative) having a change of mind for whatever reason.

    We have seen the low esteem which members of the ruling IPPG party are held by the Pembrokeshire electorate and with these revelations, yet Labour and Conservative members seem to be no better.

    I wonder did either of these two councillors consult their party colleagues regarding a call in.

  • John Hudson

    As a former “older leisure” learner, I am aware that for a number of years, community education has been targeted on vocational training where the money has been. Non-vocational training has been the diminishing preserve of council funded classes.

    Given this job-centred training emphasis, with potential links to employers’ needs, could I throw the Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee into the ring as an appropriate place for this scrutiny?

  • Dave Edwards

    I note that the call-in rules in the constitution do not prohibit the four co-opted voting members from calling-in a decision without any elected member being involved at all.

  • Kate Becton

    Thank you Jacob, in which case I have no idea why, and have any reasons been put forward suggesting why this should have been referred to any other O&S committee than the Older Persons O&S?

    Why are officers so frightened by a call-in, after all the decisions of elected councillors are not their responsibility, they are there to facilitate the democratic decisions of the Council.

    It is also interesting that the Albion Square centre in Pembroke Dock was renovated, at great cost, by the Heritage Funding – you know the sort of thing, brickwork re-pointed with gold leaf – and I wonder what is going to be done with that building, I wonder to whom that might be sold.

    I think that we are all ready to face the fact that savings have to be made; please stop treating us like idiots, tell the truth and face the devil, apparently the idea that PCC officers are anywhere near to doing this is past praying for.

    What next, Jacob? Surely they are not going to get away with this. Is there anything we can effectively do?

  • Powertothepeople

    Well our group knew nothing about it until we were told that the centre would close in the summer…they certainly didn’t ask us if we minded.

  • Kate Becton

    Is anyone else losing/has lost any faith in these seemingly endless ‘public consultations’?

    They are carried out at great expense, when we all know is that they will either be ignored or, having seemingly been ‘listened to’, will be circumnavigated further down the line, generally blamed on WAG, the Health Board or some other convenient statutory organisation that PCC feels it is powerless to resist.

    The concept that, as a result of public consultation, PCC has a democratic duty to fight for what Pembrokeshire people want seems to pass most Councillors and Officers by.

    However, there is a cause for rejoicing. Young people in Pembrokeshire – threatened with the closure of sixth forms attached to schools – are getting organised and involved. All power to their elbows!

    PCC will not find it easy to ignore a groundswell of protest from their young people. I am delighted that they are also challenging the status quo!

  • Pembrokeshire Poet

    Committee chairs David and Pat,
    Caused a bit of a spat.
    Both said ‘yes’ to the call-in,
    But reneged – how appalling!
    Then Claire ballsed it up like a…

  • Fishguard Boy

    PCC consulted over reducing the hours of the Fishguard Library. However when the recommendation went to Cabinet the proposal was to close the Library every Friday. This option was not in the original consultation and has a major problem associated with it.

    To gain access to the Last Invasion Tapestry you have to use the library. If the library is closed so is the tapestry, and as the most important tourist attraction in the town this decision flies in the face of all the promises to regenerate Fishguard.

    Of course, if this crazy option had been part of the original consultation this problem could have been identified. Then, being PCC they would have still ignored public opinion and carried on as normal!!!

  • Oliver Cromwell

    As the elected representatives of the voters and taxpayers of Pembrokeshire, how could any Councillor view the obscene pay and ‘perks’ of the Chief Executive, Parry-Jones, to be reasonable, necessary, or value for money, and how could any employee having a £90,000 car, at the taxpayers’ expense, ever be right or necessary?

    Why did the people’s representatives, who are also paid by the taxpayers, allow this to happen?

    Every ‘barrel’ may have its ‘rotten apple’ – how come every rotten apple in Pembrokeshire has turned up on or in the County Council? Might it have something to do with ‘limitless quantities’ of public money?

    Time – perhaps – for civil war?

  • Angry of Fishguard

    Huge savings could be made at a stroke if the legal department was abolished and a competent secretary sat at a desk with a telephone on speed dial to an appropriate brief.

  • Malcolm Calver

    I would agree Oliver, there seems to be a limitless quantity of money to spend, even in these days of austerity.

    Ian Westley proposes that school crossing patrol personnel should be ended in some schools as they don’t meet the criteria for funding. Our beloved cabinet rejects the idea for the time being, I suppose because of the reaction by some members of the public.

    Surely the question is why did they receive public money in the first place if they did not meet the criteria for funding?

  • Timetraveller

    Oliver, to be fair a good number of elected members voted against such extravagance. However a slim majority voted for it, their reasons range from believing they were paying for “talent” (ie gullible) to those that had simply been bought and paid for (also with our money!)

    Perhaps a few could claim confusion or maybe senility. Which part of the civil war do we need here? The long parliament or the rump.

  • Keanjo

    Meaningful cuts are needed, not suggestions which will hardly save any money at all. Suggesting economies which service heads know will not be acceptable is an old dodge.

    We should be looking at much more radical ideas to save money. For example do we really need a tourism department in both the County Council and the National Park which has led to duplication of services, the most obvious being the establishment of two costly tourist centres in Tenby. They could easily be amalgamated.

    Again the question must be asked whether the tourist industry should run their own, possibly with a small setting up grant from the CC. I am sure they could run an efficient and effective service without CC and NP involvement.

    It is no use waiting for officers to propose radical ideas to save money because they obviously wish to retain their jobs. If real progress is to be made it must be member-led and I would suggest a small working group be formed with the task of proposing ideas to save money for the authority and council tax payers.

  • Fishguard Boy

    Should be member led. The problem is there are very few members who are capable of preparing such a program, they are totally dependent on the officers to bring policy to the table and then they rubber stamp virtually whatever is proposed.

    Watching the budget debate I was amazed to see Cllr Bob Kilmister proposing an alternative to the officers’ recommendations and that this was the first time that their budget had been challenged in the history of PCC.

    We need a council populated with members of Cllr Kilmister’s ability if this mess is every to be sorted out.

  • Oliver Cromwell

    Timetraveller, your fairness point is well taken – clearly there are elected members of integrity and probity, hence this forum! The rot, sadly, is in the leadership of both members and officers.

    Those members forming the IPPG presented themselves for election on the false premise of being ‘independent’ (i.e. unaligned). Being Independent and participating in a ‘whipped’ voting bloc are mutually exclusive. To do so for power, and/or payment is despicable. They should resign, form their own party, set out their manifesto, and offer themselves for re-election on that basis.

    Senior officers, over the years, led by Parry-Jones, have claimed the council as their own fiefdom to do with as they please. A prime example is incompetent legal officers who use public money to buy expensive ‘opinions’ to support whatever position their colleagues wish to pursue on the day!

    Which part of the war do we need? Certainly the rump, but – if only – the short parliament would offer more hope!

  • John Hudson

    I rather think that a member led working group assumes that members are more aware of the intricacies of the council’s service budgets than the recent budget documentation suggests.

    I cannot see how, on the basis of the information provided in the budget presentation, anyone can suggest fully costed and measured reductions, in terms of service provision.

    Cllr Kilmister’s proposed Budget suggestions introduced both reductions and new service initiatives, and at the same time introduced a healthy public debate. In presenting his initiatives, these had to be fully costed and approved by officers as realistic propositions.

    Not so for the presented budget, where the council’s approved 2015/16 budget includes for “other cost reductions and efficiencies” totalling some £1.9m (Appendix E). Even some of the other specific reductions proposed are uncertain as to the ability to deliver them.

    This follows a similar exercise during this year where 2014/15 budgeted cost reductions were unable to be delivered due to delays in implementation etc. Officers were allowed, by councillors, to meet the resultant deficit by making unspecified cost reductions in other areas without any identification of service delivery effects.

    It is debatable whether member involvement in the current budget and scrutiny process, and four secret member only seminars, is fit for purpose or of any value.

    The 2013/14 accounts have yet to be agreed/certified by the auditor. Is any councillor remotely bothered by this outstanding matter? By the assurances given in answer to a full council question, the Leader isn’t.

  • John Hudson

    Through FoI I have just received a response to a query about central services that support and are recharged over service budgets. These are not detailed separately in the budget report but are included in the service estimates presented for council approval.

    I would assume that these are within the remit of the Head of Paid Service’s statutory responsibility to arrange for the management arrangements of the authority, hence they are not subject to any direct political scrutiny.

    Each director has delegated authority to spend within “his/her” approved budget. These support service costs total about £11m p.a., and have been subject to 5% target reductions for 2014/15 and 2015/16.

    Legal and Monitoring are said to cost about £800,000 to £900,000 p.a.

  • Brian

    £800,000 to £900,000 per year for legal and monitoring…so that’s what taxpayers pay to maintain a consistent level of serial cock ups. I can do incompetence for half that price!

  • Keanjo

    John, members would not need to know about the intricacies of the budget to work out ways of saving money, they would need to have a working knowledge of the services currently provided by the Council and ask themselves if it could be provided more cheaply.

    The example I gave of the tourist departments being provided by the tourist industry instead of by the CC and NP could be examined to establish whether it was feasible, would the tourist industry be prepared or able to sell its product effectively? If so the savings are obvious. Why not ask them?

    All services should be similarly examined to establish whether they could be provided more cheaply by outside sources. For example many authorities have outsourced waste collection and disposal. Would that work in Pembrokeshire? Would it be cheaper and as efficient as the in house service? Something really needs to be done.

  • Kate Becton

    Keanjo, I would agree completely that the tourist function of PCC could be looked at to see if this could be provided more effectively and economically by an outside body – I cannot imagine Pembrokeshire hoteliers etc. would have cancelled Fish Week because one person was not available.

    I may be completely wrong, I thought waste collection was already outsourced, however to be fair, whoever is doing it I feel that it is an extremely efficient and effective service – if it’s not broke don’t mend it.

    Also the ‘gardening’/roadside maintenance works well – if it wasn’t for the fact that a minority of people felt that it is perfectly acceptable to throw all sorts of rubbish out of their cars! Today we went to Llys-y-Fran for a fishing trip and it was lovely to see the spring flowers; however it was also distressing to see that there was totally unacceptable rubbish thrown onto the side of the road.

    I don’t wish to appear vindictive, but the legal department seems totally adrift and there has to be savings available there. I’m assuming that the cost of £800,000-£900,000 does not include the cost of ‘strong steers’, travelling/accommodation/opinion costs etc., this is madness.

    I am somewhat nonplussed about the hike in prices for social service provision – the cost for day centres will put them beyond the ability/willingness to pay for many people – I am astonished that the O&S Committee went along with it.

    The duplication of many functions, i.e planning between the NP and PCC has surely got to end – I appreciate that this will not be popular, but feel that we cannot go on paying for the same service twice.

    I have no doubt that vested interests will prevail – they normally do.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Keanjo, your example of the tourism department of PCC is a good one. Small tourism businesses, before the internet came along, relied on PCC and the Wales Tourist Board to advertise their business to a mainly UK audience. We are now in the internet world and the tourism industry is now free from local authority and Visit Wales (Wales Tourist Board) control.

    The only problem is that the self catering section, which forms the major part of the holiday industry in Pembrokeshire, is suffering from oversupply, except for two or three weeks in the July/August period, when there is shortage of accommodation.

    You only have to go online and check availability in the self catering industry to realise the true state of tourism in Pembrokeshire.

    I am afraid the only growth in the tourism industry for many years has been in personnel employed in publicly funded bodies.

  • Timetraveller

    Oliver, if mergers go ahead we will have a long parliament! The trouble with moving the deck chairs in local government every couple of decades is the scope to pay off all sorts of people and then re-hire them! Also the “Peter” principle will no doubt ensure we only get the very best “talent”.

    I would not use the word mistakes for legal’s competence, though I am sure they would prefer that explanation. One needs to look at the result achieved – take Kerr QC for example, loads of money for nothing on the face of it, but the intended result was achieved if it was for the CX to survive for another day at the time.

    Generally when one sees “mistakes” being made in this authority, or indications of incompetence, one needs to actually look at the result. Take the PD grants scheme for another example, loads of “mistakes” made apparently.

    Funny how easy it is to allegedly swindle this authority out of hundreds of thousands isn’t it? Who’s in the dock? – well no one, even though if we believe “mistakes” were made, someone had to wilfully exploit them.

    Why has the developer not been charged so far, or even taken to court by the authority? One wonders what he might say in his defence, so I would hazard, do a few people in the authority. Was the developer not, after all, providing them with much sought after cheap accommodation?

    John, £800-900,000 to run legal services? Most of that is probably easily swallowed up in the salaries of the staff employed there. What’s left doesn’t go very far when engaging lawyers. The problem is that whatever FOI disclosures are made, the scope to pass legal bills around makes such figures very nominal.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Kate, may I suggest that most in the accommodation sector of the tourist industry would not be worried if fish week was cancelled for the benefit it brings to their businesses.

    As for you thinking that waste collection was outsourced amazes me, the majority of people I come across not only find this a very good service but believe it is the only service they get out of Pembrokeshire County Council that is worthwhile paying for.

    Your suggestion that an amalgamation of National Park and Pembrokeshire County Council would be unpopular has never been tested, and if the true cost reductions by amalgamation was put to the ratepayers I do believe it would be accepted.

    We have all the controversy over the salary of Mr Bryn Parry Jones but no mention has been made over the other highly paid CEO at the National Park Authority.

    I note you visited Llys y Fran for the day and as you once represented a ward in Pembroke Dock on Pembrokeshire County Council, I presume you travelled by car for your day out from Pembroke Dock.

    The reason I highlight this is because if the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is such a wonderful and outstanding area you would think it would differ from the rest of Pembrokeshire.

    My question to you is, and please do not look it up on a map, how many times did you leave and enter the NP on your journey to Llys y Fran?

  • Keanjo

    Malcolm, when I mentioned looking at the outsourcing of the waste collection I was not criticising the present arrangement, in fact I share your view that it provides a pretty good service.

    The point I am trying to make is that most services should be looked at to establish whether outsourcing could provide at least as good a service at a lesser cost. The highways department already does this. For example the surface dressing programme was outsourced last year and the results were excellent.

    Economies are obviously required and elected members must take an active and positive role. We cannot afford to allow rates to rise at 4.5% a year.

  • Kate Becton

    Malcolm, if you read my post carefully you would see that I was not sure about the outsourcing of the waste collection service and I said that the service is very efficient and there is no problem with paying for it.

    I don’t do maps, but enjoyed the wonderful scenery that is Pembrokeshire in the spring – I’m not sure what point you wish to make, I was just slightly disappointed that there was rubbish, obviously thrown out of cars, not a lot admittedly, but why do people do it?

  • Malcolm Calver

    I am concerned like you Kate that anyone could drop litter around the county or any other roads but then my parents raised me not to drop litter. I must say though that travelling through Wales, roadsides in other areas are worse than Pembrokeshire and I often see council employees (the workers) picking up litter scattered on the roads of Pembrokeshire.

    I do not think anyone objects paying for the waste collection service but as to anyone being unsure if it is a service that is outsourced or not, when the Pembrokeshire County Council logo is prominently displayed on the waste collection vehicles concerns me.

    The point I was making Kate over your day out to Llys y Fran was that most people visiting or living in Pembrokeshire are unaware of the location of the boundary between the two areas.

    Keanjo, all services should be looked at to see if outsourcing would provide as good or better service for the same or lower cost to the ratepayers of Pembrokeshire. The problem would come when trying to work out what the service actually costs at present, because of the unidentifiable add on costs at County Hall.

    Most people in Pembrokeshire, at least all of those that actually pay community charge, would agree with you Keanjo that we cannot keep paying an extra 4.5% pa but county councillors do not seem to realise that. Perhaps you could inform us how many voted to reject the increase when it came before full council.

  • Still disgruntled

    Jacob –

    Q: When is a committee not a committee?
    A: When a PCC suit says it is two committees. Specifically when these two committees are difficult to call to session at the same time and have (really) very different individual remits and outcome requirements.

    Q: When is independence not independence? “An independent politician does not agree or vote with any particular political party…” is “…not influenced or controlled in any way by other people, events, or things” (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/independence)
    A: When it is found within PCC political arenas.

    I always thought, in retrospect, very naively, that if I didn’t feel that the manifesto of a particular party had my county’s best interests at heart then I had an option. I could vote for somebody local who genuinely had a feel for local issues and could be trusted to to do their best for local services and local people (who would be the local work force).

    I thought they would stand up when the going got tough, when the big parties were cracking the whip, and show the people who elected them that they had the guts to say what they believed and fight the good fight for as long as it took and wherever it led.

    I left the county for ten years to do a bit of sailing with the grey funnel line but always knew that I would be back – ‘cos this is Pembrokeshire, home – God’s country.

    Now look at it. The sun still shines, the waves still break on some of the best beaches in the world, the kids play safely BUT the people we have entrusted to LEAD are still in the playground. “Mistakes” get made, other people’s money becomes pink mist, lies, secret little cliques, telling tales and bullying.

    This county now deserves leaders. People who are trained to make decisions, honourable decisions in open arenas and with the lights on – always. This forum gives me hope. I can see there are people here with some common sense – I would follow some of the people here. I would trust some of the people here. Mike S (would stare out a serial killer) – we need public servants NOT those who think the public are THEIR servants. Just sayin’…

    …where’s my cold flannel…

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