Jacob Williams
Sunday 18th October, 2015

A recipe for corruption

A recipe for corruption

An interesting email landed in my inbox last week from the Electoral Reform Society.

They were publicising research in England conducted for them by University of Cambridge academic and research fellow, Dr. Mihály Fazekas.

Dr. Fazekas’ profile on the university’s website notes that “One of his primary areas of work is public procurement and high-level corruption.”

The research associate has been looking into the ramifications of the first-past-the-post voting method used for local government elections in England and the health of councils firmly in a single-party stranglehold.

Analysis of the study from the ERS points out: “Councils dominated by single parties could be wasting as much as £2.6bn a year in procurement, most likely owing to a lack of scrutiny.”

Another interesting element of the academic’s research measured councils for corruption against “a set of ‘red flags’ signalling the likely steering of government contracts to a favoured bidder.”

Highlighting a key observation of the research, the ERS says: “Councils of weak electoral accountability are roughly 50% higher corruption risk than their competitive counterparts.”

As with any responsible study, it’s at pains to point out “there are many one-party councils which are models of local government excellence and efficiency” and that the figures “do not by any means” suggest all one-party states are hotbeds of corruption and profligacy.

Within his publication Dr. Fazekas points out his two benchmarks for “weak electoral accountability” in local authorities as follows:

– a council with “a large share of uncontested seats” which he quantifies as 10% or more of the total seats,

– a council “being overwhelmingly controlled by the same party for 10 years or more,” which he qualifies as the “same party controlling more than 2/3rd of seats without interruption.”

For those unfamiliar with Pembrokeshire County Council’s democratic makeup, it’s a body of sixty councillors each elected by FPTP. Since its creation in 1995/6 following the breakup of the much larger Dyfed County Council, it has always been controlled by the ‘independent’ party.

Recently unearthed by Old Grumpy, the following eerily prophetic editorial was published in the Western Telegraph newspaper following the authority’s inaugural May 1995 election:

The first outing of Pembrokeshire County Council took place, when, as expected, political groupings were announced by Labour, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.

What was less expected was the decision of the Independents to band together.

This may have been a defence mechanism, but seems strangely at odds with the term “independent”.

Like it or not, Pembrokeshire is to suffer the tyranny of party politics with all the debates taking place at party meetings not open to the public and press.

By default, the Conservatives have become the odd ones out and should now declare themselves openly under their own party colours.

The proposed declarations of interests may well “out” the closet Tories in any case.

Then we may have some idea who are the real “independents”.

Of course, the rest is history and the Independent Political Group’s (IPG’s) record speaks for itself. Its 2012 rebrand as the Independent Plus Political Group (IPPG) has done little to sweeten its toxic legacy.

Despite various gains and losses between Labour and the Tories of the county’s four national seats (two each for Westminster and, since 1999, Cardiff Bay) the dominance of oxymoronic ‘independent’ groupings in County Hall has been unshakable over the past twenty years.

Following the county-wide elections in 1999, 2004, 2008 and 2012, the IPG came up trumps. And, on times when the electorate has meted out a bloody nose and ousted a sitting IPG member, many’s the time his or her successor went on to fill the empty seat on the IPG benches.

The latter two electoral outings – 2008 and 2012 – did see a larger return of true ‘unaffiliated’ independent councillors like me, who decline to form or join any group. Particularly 2012 which reduced the independent party’s (IPG’s) majority from 39-21 pre-election to its current state of just 31-29.

The numbers game has been variously recounted on this blog and Old Grumpy’s, and the independent party’s claim to power was only achieved following much horse-trading including the defection of Labour councillors Sue Perkins and Simon Hancock, giving the renamed IPPG a slender edge over the combined opposition currently consisting in order of number: unaffiliated indepednents, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Conservatives and the Pembrokeshire Alliance.

Leaving the national parties to shame, PCC and its immortal ‘independent’ cabal would surely have provided a model case study for Dr. Fazekas on political parties and their grapple for power – if only he had ventured over the border!

And this isn’t an affliction contained within this part of the world, which, combined with Carmarthenshire is what some refer to as the Wild West. A fair share of Wales’ 22 local authorities have large groupings of ‘independent’ group councillors in commanding positions. Not to mention the cluster of councils in the south which are predictably Labour-dominated, always have been and probably always will be.

As for Dr. Fazekas’ other electoral accountability benchmark, it’s worth noting that at Pembrokeshire County Council’s 2004 election five seats were uncontested.

For the 2008 poll this was a staggering thirteen – exactly the same number as at the 2012 poll, leading the Western Telegraph to come up with another editorial branding the county a “democracy desert.”

And Pembrokeshire’s thirteen non-contested seats in 2012 made up a sizeable proportion of the national picture, where the BBC reported 97 of Wales’ 1,264 elected councillors didn’t have to face the electorate.

The Electoral Reform Society comes to a stand-out conclusion to be drawn from its study: “the overall picture is clear – councils dominated by single parties, or those with a significant number of uncontested seats, are on average more likely to be wasting money and more likely to be at risk of corruption.”

You’d have to say PCC qualifies on both counts.

Who knew?

The study is very interesting and well worth reading here.


Off the bench

The masochists among you may have noticed that the author of that other website has returned to action following a two month and four day hibernation.

Sixty-five days well-spent away from the keyboard, some say. Others wonder why the rugby-loving blogger’s absence outlasted his beloved England’s defeat to Australia on 3rd October.

For those unfamiliar this was the dark day which sounded the death knell for the host’s chances of repeating their 2003 success in the Rugby World Cup.

And in the unlikely case you managed to evade the fact, it marked the first time a host nation has failed to claw its way out of the group stages.

As a proportion of the year, the grumpy one’s spell of writer’s block amounted to 17.81% – a percentage of fruitless inactivity the England team could have only dreamt of during its less than stellar run up to and including its 33-13 defeat to the Wallabies at Twickenham.

One of the better gags amid the heart-on-their-sleeve misery shown by the fairweather England fans is that they’d at least be able to take back their overpriced replica rugby shirts within the vendor’s return policy timeframe.

Though it has to be said that this quip has no bearing on Old Grumpy’s statutory rights. The vintage of his England strip is beyond Watchdog’s or even The Ferret’s consumer nous.

I’m reliably informed he even had it signed by one of his childhood contemporaries – none other than William Webb Ellis.

I know, it’s not good sport to kick a man when he’s down. Even a councillor/blogger who’s had a nine week respite.

Rumours of his death were, clearly, exaggerated. But we can’t be sure if the rugby had anything to do with his absence from the blogosphere as he makes no excuse in his latest post, which, not for the first time, provides us a lesson in how the old duffer’s not one to be underestimated.

And with Wales’ departure yesterday from the championship race we may have to brace ourselves for him to lay it on thick.

Until then here’s a particular favourite of mine doing the rounds this month, lampooning England’s shock-horror penalty decision to kick for the corner in the dying minutes against Wales.

The high risk gamble on September 26 is widely seen as one of the all-time worst calls in the team’s history, costing defeat from a near guaranteed draw.


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39 Comments...

  • Flashbang

    I thought Grumpy was on a worldwide fact finding tour into the benefits of one party presidential regimes, a tour that was funded by the IPPG. Meeting the likes of Kim Il Grumpy in the East and El Grumpy in South America. Let’s see if he’s Jamie’s new best friend at the next council meeting.

    As for the report written for the ERS: It’s not worth the paper it’s written on if nobody will do a damn thing about the corruption which is exactly the situation that Pembrokeshire is in.

    Even when there is cast iron proof the police and other authorities fail time and again to do anything at all. That is a serious problem for the taxpayer.

  • John Hudson

    Has anyone seen the proposals for revising the Overview and Scrutiny committee arrangements being put to next Council following a review by the Democratic Services Committee? The report comes from the Director of Development, however I thought we had a Head of Democratic Services.

    This review, carried out by councillors who have mostly shown little interest or motivation to conduct in-depth scrutiny, proposes to merge some existing committees and introduce a Corporate Governance O&S. This has apparently been decided without any consideration of Terms of Reference or how it will work in practice.

    Currently most corporate issues are not subjected to any scrutiny, but are determined by officers behind closed doors and never see the light of day. No doubt a deliberate scheme devised by the previous regime.

    Does this mean corporate affairs will now fall within the remit of the “collective” cabinet rather than the CEO and cabinet/council leader? Which committee is to approve the accounts on behalf of the council?

    Will the limited number of councillors on a new O&S committee be able to cope with the work of the proposed merged portfolios?

  • Hayley

    I am in bits laughing…I can’t contain myself!!!

  • Goldingsboy

    And Hayley, they are laughing a great deal louder – all the way to the bank.

  • Timetraveller

    That Pembs is corrupt is obvious from the mire of the Pembroke Dock grants scheme, though I am sure the chief constable won’t rush his “investigation” whilst anyone culpable is still living. (They’re making good progress so far.)

    However, many IPPG members will remind you that it is the most efficient authority in Wales, bar a little bit of uncharacteristic generosity with councillor allowances, senior pay and the odd Porsche.

    It cannot therefore be described as profligacy, especially if you are a beneficiary of social services.

    The voter apathy is then explained by an electorate who don’t really want to know how such “efficiency” is achieved, as long as they don’t pay for it.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Timetraveller is quite right and it would be interesting to be informed how many householders are actually paying for so called “PCC services”, either through the community charge or business rates.

    Unless a decision affects them directly the majority of Pembrokeshire people turn a blind eye to what happens at County Hall. The recent decisions of the planning committee to have site visits in relation to planning applications in St Florence, Kilgetty and Penally just shows how they have no regard to how they spend our money.

    The abolition of the “poll tax” was the biggest mistake ever.

  • Keanjo

    Timetraveller mentioned the Pembroke Dock grants fiasco. As a matter of interest what has happened to the officer who was suspended? Is he still on full paid gardening leave?

    There seemed to be some movement from the police a month or so ago but all has gone quiet.

  • Brian

    But with the CPS in meltdown nationwide and this sort of thing happening (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-34583463) don’t expect the winds of change to blow through LA executive suites any time soon.

  • Bayard

    Malcolm, the problem was not the abolition of the poll tax, but the poll tax itself, or, to be more precise, the changes in local authority funding it precipitated.

    To head off popular disquiet against the poll tax, the Tories started the rot of funding local government from national taxes (if you recall, VAT went up by 2.5%).

    This process has continued inexorably, so that local council tax payers contribute a smaller and smaller proportion of the authority’s income, meaning that it is not them that the authority worries about, but their real paymasters, the national government.

  • John Hudson

    It may come a surprise to some, including councillors, that in 2014/5 the council fixed its council tax in the expectation of collecting £40.5m. During the year it actually collected £42m, an additional £1.5m.(+3.7%)

    Bearing in mind that the council has a good collection rate of 98-99%, you may wonder how this additional income from council tax arose. This is not the only year that this has happened.

    The council has a longstanding declared policy to apply any additional council tax income received to fund its capital programme, now specifically its 21st Century Schools programme.

    Additional council tax receipts are put down to extra properties coming into charge during the year, every year, over a number of years.

    This is but one of a number of “adjustments” or allocations that are made at the end of the financial year when considering the use of end of year balances.

  • Flashbang

    How can prime waterfront property at Blackbridge be given away for less than the price of two houses?

    Some serious questions need to be asked about who valued the land, who decided it should be sold in secret, and what guarantees are there that it will actually become what a fly by night company says it will?

  • Timetraveller

    Bayard hits the nail on the head. Only 25% of LA funding is from the council tax. This is a hefty multiplier as a cut of only 5% in overall spending equates to 20% off the council tax.

    Still it’s better than no connection and works at the other end to curb overspending. These % figures are approximate, they spread between Wales’s lowest and highest spending LAs.

  • Morgi

    Flashbang has no chance of having any serious answers to questions relating to beachfront property at Blackbridge. Questions need to be asked about the debacle of the previous occupants Crownridge.

    Is it true that following the second failure of that venture into stainless steel, the Viscount went to Germany and persuaded them to enter a business venture which resulted in his incarceration courtesy of their prison service.

    It’s a pity that our allegations of corruption at PCC weren’t handed over to Interpol.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Any raised concerns handed over for investigation with HM Police Force may have to wait longer than the 30 year official secrets act for an answer. It’s of concern that Dyfed-Powys are one of two Welsh police forces deemed to be underperforming.

    Maybe a BIG result into the Pembroke Dock grants investigation may leap them up the league table and remove the heat from their collar? Once the heat is off them then it may become a furnace under the Kremlin on the Cleddau. I can see the smouldering effigy of Farmer Adams replacing the present incumbent on a bonfire every November if the thoughts of Joe Publc in Pembrokeshire are proved right.

    Corruption/obstructing the law/false accounting to name just a few of the antics that have gone on at the Kremlin. Yet the esteemed animals in the farmyard have the audacity to bleat down the WG’s idea of bringing back Dyfed. Surely it can’t be any worse?

  • Flashbang

    Morgi, have you tried calling Interpol? If you get through, do them tell them to bypass DP Police as they don’t seem to be working for the taxpayer.

  • Brian

    Blackbridge? I think this might be one to watch very very closely.

    http://cyprus-mail.com/2014/10/26/chance-lost-in-waste-to-energy-project/

    But then it appears substance/credibility/truth was an issue?

    http://www.expatforum.com/expats/cyprus-expat-forum-expats-living-cyprus/585585-use-waste.html

    Also this link:

    http://www.research.org.cy/_metacanvas/5_Grant%20March%202015%20Experiences_v2.pdf

    It seems the business plan might involve farming a few grants then? Hmm…always easier when dealing with the gullible/naive – know anywhere like that?

  • Bayard

    Flashbang asks: “…who decided it should be sold in secret…”

    Is there any other way of selling off publicly owned land?

  • Flashbang

    Thanks to Old Grumpy for shining a light on the litany of snake oil salesmen and Blackbridge. More worrying is the fact that so many of our elected members have been taken in time and time again. Give Egnedol its cheque back Jamie, as obviously they have pulled the wool over you and your idiot cabal’s eyes.

  • Chas.

    There is a petition on the Welsh Assembly website to bring in proportional representation for local authority elections. Should we sign it?

  • John Hudson

    How can we get a proportional representation of “no name” so called independent candidates, who, post election, join a political grouping that nobody voted for?

  • Malcolm Calver

    Surely it would be much better to reduce the number of county councils in Wales with each county councillor having a larger constituency. Hopefully this would mean that we would have all the seats contested.

    This should be considered alongside the abolition of community/town councils which have no relevance in today’s electoral setup and are proving very costly to ratepayers.

  • Mayday

    The Blackbridge property was marketed by the Welsh Government through Knight Frank. Details are no longer on their site but the main brochure for the portfolio can be found at:

    https://business.wales.gov.uk/sites/enterprisezoneswales/files/pdfs/Land_at_Waterston_020813_E.pdf

    Interestingly the land for the access road is missing on the Egnedol website – could it be that PCC/Welsh Government have agreed to build this road with taxpayers’ money to ‘facilitate’ the development?

  • Ivor Whistle

    So the property was marketed by WAG? Well, they have history in getting value for money… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-34709140

    At least we will be getting consistency! Sometimes the more questions you ask, the more you need to ask.

  • Timetraveller

    With David Cameron’s House of Lords problem requiring the creation of about 150 new lords capable of “supermarionation” (as in Thunderbirds), one wonders if he might find potential candidates in Pembrokeshire?

    The ranks of the IPPG would be excellent material for such a task, one can barely see the strings move!

    Some may claim socialist backgrounds, just to show it isn’t political bias – they’re all “independent” of course. Most would take to the perks and expenses like ducks to water. Just so long as they perform to the puppet master’s deft touch.

    Just a thought with those beastly lefties dominating the upper chamber, something has to be done. Given Dave’s cash, I wouldn’t be surprised if 31 IPPG propagated into a majority in the Lords before you can say tax credit.

  • Observer

    What a great idea, Timetraveller!

    It may have slipped readers’ minds that among the IPPG’s esteemed coterie of councillors there’s already one with a title of nobility.

    No, not Cllr Johnny Allen-Mirehouse but none other than Cllr Brian Hall – aka the Time Lord.

    Anyone capable of making it from the Severn Bridge to Penllergaer via Pembroke Dock in an hour has earnt his ermine, Tardis or no Tardis!

  • The fact that, despite his well documented but unorthodox expense-claiming practices, Cllr Hall is still a leading light in the IPPG (appointed as Chairman of Environment Scrutiny Committee by Cllr Jamie Adams, SRA £9,000 pa) tells you all you need to know about this non-political political party.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Malcolm does open up a huge debate once again on local politics. I have regularly issued statements asking for more accountability on PCC and have extolled the virtues of political party led governance. The downfall for Pembrokeshire has been the IPPG and its predecessor the IPG, which John Hudson highlights correctly.

    Pembrokeshire only has itself to blame if we now once again get absorbed into Dyfed. We had the chance but blew it and this rests fairly and squarely at the feet of our Councillors. Tough and often unpopular decisions have to be made but unfortunately we don’t have the calibre of Councillors to make those decisions effectively, for Pembrokeshire.

    Highlight the issues relating to BPJ, the grants debacle, Estyn, whistleblowers and paedophiles, the Audit Office, a Welsh Government management board and now concerns over Egdenol.

    The Cabinet members are indoctrinated in the ‘blowing wind up each other’s arses’ to justify their means whilst the minions in the farmyard are unable to see the manure hitting the fan. The Kremlin on Cleddau’s officers hold the power leading Farmer Adams and his flock a merry dance by the nose.

    Nothing will change until Councillors on the IPPG gravy train get off at the next station. If just 4 disembark then the ruling cabal would be ousted and then perhaps a more favourable, justified governance of Pembrokeshire would emerge.

    Who is brave enough to go first is the challenge and then some may follow? Caradoc Evans was vilified a century ago for his musings about community life in West Wales. Perhaps he was ahead of his time going by Pembrokeshire’s current shenanigans.

  • Flashbang

    Any news on the police investigation?

  • Timetraveller

    Observer, then I’m sure Lord Hall of Tempus Fugit will find the House of Lords expenses scheme very much to his liking!

  • John Hudson

    Perhaps we would do well to give up on the concept of local democratic representation by paid councillors without any apparent direct accountability.

    It might focus minds and attention if a surcharge penalty was re-introduced and councillors could be held financially accountable for their decisions, and decisions of officers they permit to be made. It might also improve the information that was required and made available to them.

    We may be involved in buying a car park we spent some £850,000 building with the help of third party grant money (including £300,000 of our money on land PCC does not own). The Council may now have to buy this car park for 43 cars from the landowners and run it to bring it into use. This is another example of a grant programme that the council administered.

    Exactly what is, or makes “Pembrokeshire”?

    Undoubtedly it is a recognised geographical area carved out by Norman conquest in the 1200s, known today internationally for its outstanding countryside, coastline and castles. Over the centuries developing local services have been shoehorned into this historic region, under the direction and (sometimes) control of various corporations, local councils, bodies and/or quangos with varying degrees of democratic representation.

    Is this area relevant to meet today’s administrative purposes across police, fire, health, adult and children’s social care, education, highways, transport, environment, planning and other services?

    Exactly how much local influence do our locally elected councillors exert on these services? Most of these now have to be conducted within the scope of a myriad of law, statute and regulation handed down by our devolved Welsh Government.

    Many of them are already provided within various differing geographical areas, not all contained within the geographic area, by organisations in which we have no direct, or very limited elected representation via our County Councillors. This representation costs us over £1m a year in councillors’ salaries and allowances, to do what?

    Past experience has shown us that the majority of the elected body does little more than follow the advice of its unelected officers, who, in turn are required to work within the imposed regulatory regime and direction.

    Councillors would have us believe that “Pembrokeshire” is closely recognised and defined as Pembrokeshire County Council, and while pointing to the failed Dyfed County Council model, overlook the failed Pembrokeshire County Council, fraught with serious internal management problems and lack of effective scrutiny, challenge and control by paid councillors.

    Already there is brave talk of collaborative working with other authorities and cost saving by sharing resources, rather than drawing a line on a map. What substantive role and control will elected councillors exercise in this collaborative approach? Will it be worth our paying upwards of £14,000 to each councillor to provide a veneer of democratic representation?

    In the recent debate about the future of schools in Haverfordwest, most, if not all Haverfordwest County Councillors were prevented from taking part and/or voting, due to close personal association with existing Haverfordwest schools.

    It appears that their narrow personal and perceived prejudicial connections outweighed the overriding public interest of their constituents, who were left unrepresented.

  • Timetraveller

    Flashbang, unless a game changer occurs, the police will only go through the motions or determine a lack of evidence. I presented a case to them 10 years ago about a council officer, they played with it for a few years then hope it had died of old age.

    I am sure they have the gist of what went on in Pembroke Dock, but don’t really see what the crime is.

    Taking any single individual to court is likely to result in them defending themselves by singing like the proverbial canary. Before you can say “set up”, the dock will be overflowing with council officials.

    Better let the long grass grow round this one, one must admit the Chief Constable is doing an excellent job.

  • Flashbang

    Timetraveller, all the more reason for the police to pull their finger out and proceed. Anyone know who the buck stops with on that investigation? A name would be good so questions could be asked. As for the Chief Constable role, it has always looked like a job for the boys and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

  • Malcolm Calver

    I do believe that by electing police commissioners it was supposed to make the police more accountable to the public, have they abandoned that idea?

  • Goldingsboy

    Timetraveller, are you seriously suggesting that, whenever a crime is allegedly committed by senior servants of our county, the prosecuting authorities should look the other way?

    Furthermore, why is it that the relevant authorities of Pembrokeshire seem to studiously ignore Edmund Burke’s words of warning that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good [police]men do nothing?”

  • Timetraveller

    The police are pretty weak on investigating fraud anyhow, it can be complex and perpetrators can be difficult to track down. Add politics and their enthusiasm wanes even more.

    Outside of the inner workings of Conservative HQ, who knows why we have commissioners – too many trips across the pond if you ask me. Our police commissioner is “political”, so not exactly enthused to chase issues when the political colour is “alkaline” (think litmus test here.)

    On the one hand a property developer acquired a large sum of money “in dubious circumstances”, on the other, a council acquired a quantity of cheap housing to address social needs they may well have had to pay much more to address. A dying retail area did not get “re-vitalised”.

    All these things are connected and have a political dimension, so yes I believe the police are only pretending to look at this one.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Timetraveller, a public outcry to enact an enquiry to the County Police Commissioner may be required. Chris Salmon could and should get involved in this. He may however be playing a political waiting game until the elections/new combined councils comes to play. We await and see.

  • Jon Boy Jovi, this is an operational matter which is not within Mr Salmon’s remit. It is with the chief constable that the responsibility resides.

  • Keanjo

    Mike, I don’t suppose a word in the shell-like of the Chief Constable would do any harm.

  • Flashbang

    Christopher Salmon appears to be cut from the same cloth as Adams and BPJ. His position is supposed to be apolitical so someone should explain the Separation of Powers Doctrine to him. This link may need some explaining from him:

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/senior-police-officer-given-55000-10426928

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