Jacob Williams
Friday 8th January, 2016

Reality bites

Reality bites

Straight off the back of the Christmas high comes the harsh reality of the cash-strapped times we live in – if the agenda for the next cabinet meeting is anything to go by.

At last month’s full council meeting members overwhelmingly voted to approve my proposal to webcast meetings of this august body.

The 44-15 outcome was the most bruising defeat for the ruling administration, who put up hopeless arguments against its adoption.

Cabinet webcastCabinet meets on Monday for the first time since – and the graphic alongside shows that the website is already primed for this televisual feast.

Some will be sitting in front of their screens looking to see if our esteemed executive members have bagged a new tie or frock in the winter sales.

Council-watchers will be more interested to see if their meetings – and deliberations – will change now they’re in the public gaze.

Historically cabinet meetings have been swift, smooth-running affairs, appearing almost scripted. This stage-managed look may owe to cabinet pre-meetings – where it’s thought that differences of opinions are ironed out behind closed doors to avoid any public spats.

Not forgetting the fact that these obedient servants are cherry-picked for their lucrative gigs by the council’s leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, from his independent party that’s not a party.

The season of goodwill will seem a distant memory on Monday as Jamie’s guys and gals hunker down and get stuck into some new methods of extracting more cash for council services devised by officers.

And a quick look at the raft of proposals they’ll be considering suggests nothing is off-limits.

Increased charges here, new fees for council services there, it really is doom and gloom.

Among the items coming before our first televised cabinet is the proposal to increase council tax by 5%. They won’t have the final say on this, though, that’s a job for full council when the budget is set in March.

Residents can thank their lucky stars it’s only 5% because that’s the highest rise allowed by law.

Someone in the authority’s cultural services department has been busy with an abacus – St. David’s own, no doubt – recommending cabinet introduces an array of charge increases as well as some brand new ones.

Whereas it used to be free to reserve a library book, the proposals will see a charge of £1.30 for the privilege, 90p concessionary, with inter-library loans up to five quid from four.

Ten pence extra you’ll pay to borrow a DVD – 15p extra if you’re a senior citizen taking out a talking book.

Luddites will be delighted that the charge for sending an international fax from PCC’s libraries is untouched at £3 per sheet.

Among other things about to become more expensive are group talks, various archive copy fees and parking at Scolton Manor museum – by 50p to £2.50.

And it seems other County Hall number crunchers have been busy beavering away with the patron saint’s counting device.

The highways department helpfully provides cabinet with a demonstration of some wasted opportunities of yesteryear.

They’ve totted up that the council could have earned nearly £11.5k in 2012/13 if fees had been charged for house and street name-changing applications.

This resource-hungry service, formerly free, sees fees ranging from £25 to £150 in the cabinet recommendation.

Another new levy is set to be introduced for what the report says is ‘occasional requests’ made to the public protection division for compliance certificates by county food traders ‘who wish to export food to countries outside the EC.’

Currently free in Pembrokeshire, the council’s officers recommend these food export certificates should now cost £73 – and that they should also be ‘reviewed and revised to take account of inflation and other increases.’

There are no flies on them!

But there might be more in some of our county’s eateries before long as advisory food safety visits which used to be free are also set to cost £45 per hour for a two hour minimum.

Cabinet members are also given the option to up council house tenants’ fees by either £1.50 or £2 per week, which is a discretionary increase on top of the Welsh Government’s compulsory rise of 1.4%.

It’s anybody’s guess which discretionary fee – if any – cabinet will support, but officers are keen to point out to members that the £2 is the “financially prudent” option!

The above, although miserly, is unlikely to see people chaining themselves to the County Hall gates. But I think they paint a picture of things to come.

Further and more deeply controversial proposals are expected to come before cabinet in 2016, as they struggle to free up cash – more on that in a second.

Among them is the consultation launched in November which could see Tenby’s Greenhill Avenue Centre – a day centre for adults with learning disabilities – closed down and its patrons’ needs reassessed and, potentially, downgraded.

Overshadowing all of the council’s economic activity in recent years and well into the future is 21st Century Schools – the new builds and improvements programme for secondary and primary schools 50/50 funded by the council and Welsh Government.

The project is a monumental £150 million – the second largest of all 22 Welsh authorities.

This elephant is also going to be in the room on Monday, although its appearance on the cabinet agenda is merely for members to ‘note’ the September minutes of the project’s management board, despite the fact that cabinet met in October, November and December.

The word ambitious might not be right for the 21st Century Schools project and, although it’s a hot potato for some who adamantly say it’s realistic with brave faces, I think more people are beginning to have their doubts.

It achieves the highest possible score of 16 within the authority’s corporate risk register – which measures probability and impact of risks – all highlighted in an unmistakeable red hue.

Nobody could argue against kids learning in new and shiny environments but it’s extremely costly stuff – and believe me, you’re paying for it!

Penny pinching (literally) with library fees and whatever else they might think of next to save or increase the council’s cash, is all going on while the authority has to find ways of funding its colossal commitment to the 21st Century Schools programme.

If everything goes ahead as planned – and that’s a big if – it means the council scraping together its £75 million, and the money has to come from somewhere.

The financial planning for this will be ongoing until the end of March 2019 – the cut-off date for Cardiff Bay’s match funding – while services are being cut and new or increased charges are introduced to maintain arguably worse services.

I wonder if cabinet members dare to mention any of this. Or if they’ll go for the ‘financially prudent’ £2 increase in council house rent.

Tune in at 10am, Monday!


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63 Comments...

  • Flashbang

    The obvious things that should be cut are the outrageous salaries, SRAs, dodgy expenses and waste of time and space legal department.

    Then you can go through all the seat warmers, yes men and overpaid executives. Jamie Adams knew the council was cash strapped but still tried to overpay the new CEO even though he was a protege of the disgraced BPJ.

    The leadership of this council is a joke and has long been so.

  • Goldingsboy

    May I suggest that the introduction of a charging system in the Kremlin car park, in line with all the others in the county, would not only ease some of the financial burden upon the public, but also meet with very popular acclaim.

  • Concerned

    The first two posts here clearly illustrate the failings in the current structure at County Hall. The IPG, with no clear political mandate, allow officers to make policy. Would turkeys vote for Xmas? I think not.

    Many of us on the outside would welcome a root and branch investigation of the council’s staffing structure, given the current financial constraints, surely there have to be reductions at County Hall, but this is not going to happen under the IPG.

    Charging for council officials to park would be a welcome sign to the rest of us who have to pay through the nose to park on Haverfordwest, but is really only scratching the surface, as I believe do many of the decisions made recently.

  • Quill

    Concerned, you’ve got it absolutely right – most of these sorts of cost reductions barely scratch the surface.

    However we mustn’t be naive, the officers will know this too. So when we look at the bigger cuts they propose which will reap larger savings, they are looking everywhere but at themselves.

    This is why it should be the IPPG administration leading this (or ideally all councillors) but certainly not just financially biased officers.

    One of the higher value cuts identified on this blog is the possible closure of the Tenby Avenue Centre for vulnerable adults.

    If this proposal is approved by cabinet it will be no skin off officers’ noses (apart from maybe taking flak at public meetings) but the result would be to the detriment of society, or at least needy parts of a society and their family who fund and appreciate such a facility.

    Sacking a load of managers, middle managers and layabouts at County Hall would, I posit, have no impact on society and could realise big savings easily and reasonably quickly once their redundancy pay-offs are accounted for, and without affecting ongoing service delivery.

    It would be unpleasant for the staff and their families, of course, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and that would be a limited pool of affected people to whom the council owes absolutely nothing.

    May sound brutal but local authorities don’t exist to keep people in jobs, not that anybody in the IPPG will accept it.

    We always hear talk about ‘tough decisions need to be made’ coming from County Hall and that’s totally correct, but they should be looking inwards, not just outwards!

    As has been said time and again, that would be turkeys voting for Christmas.

    However that still gives Jamie Adams and his cabinet no cover, because they are ultimately in charge of their officers and providing direction.

    Or at least they should be in a democratic institution.

  • Keanjo

    All very true Quill and, if in the last event it is decided there must be staff cuts, the people chosen will be cleaners, dinner ladies, road men and the boys and girls at the high table will remain.

    As for closing the Tenby Avenue centre it just shows that the people ruining County Hall, sorry running County Hall, will attack the most vulnerable to save their own miserable skins.

  • John Devonald

    Well done keep the good work up Jacob you and Old Grumpy and co.

  • Andrew Lye

    Does the Chair of Council’s chauffeur driven car survive another year?

  • John Hudson

    I see from the table of proposed cuts point 6.9 in the draft budget report and appendix D, that planned cuts totalling £16.3m are to be made in 2016/17. These proposals include the following significant elements:-

    A “cut” of £2.5m arising from the proposed 5% increase in council tax. (A cut to the council but an increase for us).

    £2.5m from vacancy management and other (unspecified) cost reductions. BUT £2.0m of this saving is to be applied to an “invest to save initiative” so the NET cut is £0.4m.

    A reduction of £2.4m in capital financing costs.

    A cut of £0.9m on environmental services. Mostly from increased rents and charges it would seem.

    A cut of £0.5m in central, corporate, non-distributed costs and support services. Itemised in appendix D.

    No further details are provided, but apparently, the proposed cost reductions have been developed by officers and members during numerous seminars and workshops including a specific session during which members presented their cost reduction/efficiency initiatives.

    Further detail will be able to be provided at the forthcoming scheduled O&S meetings and a further (secret members only) budget seminar.

    That’s all right then.

  • Welshman 23

    The chickens have come home to roost. Since my time on your blog it has been rammed down our throats that PCC has the cheapest council tax. I think not and an increase of 5% is just a tip of the iceberg.

    Let’s start at the beginning: the pay off of BPJ £300k, Cherry Grove expenditure circa £1.5 million, 60 councillors at £12k p.a. plus expenses and the additional costs for SRAs £1 million, Bluestone investment that’s gone tits up.

    The muppets at the Kremlin want me and the rest of Pembrokeshire to put more money into the leaking sieve. Well dream on, and I urge every person to refuse to pay any increase. Inflation is less than 1%. If enough people boycott then the council will go bust.

    It’s throwing good money to people that are totally incompetent in running this council. If this was a commercial business cuts in staff would need to be done. Cut out the flannel and start getting value back to the people of Pembrokeshire.

  • Flashbang

    http://www.pembrokeshire-herald.com/19309/councillors-praised-for-holding-spineless-and-incompetent-colleagues-to-account/

    It’s a bit late but better it keeps rising from the grave to remind people.

  • Phil

    An aspect little discussed is that many Town Councils are being forced to take on responsibilities formerly undertaken by the County Council, but now abandoned by them.

    This is not new but has been under way for a few years. These include play areas, less toilets, flower beds – even street cleaning to some extent.

    Pembroke Dock Town Council is proposing a 10% increase on their precept, all down to them feeling obliged to take on these jobs. So the increase to the taxpayer is actually bigger and the town councils will take the flak from tax payers on this rather than the county council.

  • Welshman 23

    Now let’s have an open vote for the budget approval and let’s see who has the backbone to vote against these increases. 5% council tax increase from now until 2020…how can you vote increases up to 2020 when there is an election in 2017?

  • John Hudson

    I am afraid this indicative forward thinking is a requirement. It is up for consideration and approval at each annual budget setting.

  • Bayard

    Quill says: “May sound brutal but local authorities don’t exist to keep people in jobs”

    And there was me thinking it was their raison d’etre.

    The Welsh Government should scrap SRAs. Local authorities functioned perfectly well for decades without them.

  • Flashbang

    What is this about PCC planning to build on flood plains? Are they that bereft of intelligence that they’d go ahead and do this?

    The names of the councillors/officers involved in this decision should be made public and they alone should carry the can for any repercussions from flooding of properties built. Not having the mug taxpayer paying for more dodgy legal advice to bail them out of the mess they create.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Phil, town and community councils are not forced to take on responsibilities previously carried out by PCC, it is their choice.

    You say Pembroke Dock Town Council is proposing to increase the precept by 10%. If this is the case they should all resign and face election.

  • Dave Edwards

    Malcolm/Phil, community and town council function and funding is an annual source of interest to us anorak wearers but passes most people by.

    Leaving aside the two religious peculiars of Caldey and St Davids, Band D charges range from £4.81 (Stackpole and Castlemartin) to £58.42 (Tenby) with your two authorities at £45.02 (Pembroke Dock) and £28.56 (Manorbier).

    Clearly Tenby is a very different place from Stackpole and residents need a different level of service which costs more. Whether the residents of Tenby would be happy with no flowerbeds, no hanging baskets, no street furniture etc and no special events for tourists is a matter for them to decide and so far there seems no evidence that they want to be without them.

    I have been a Community Councillor for well over 20 years and in that time no one has asked to see the audited accounts, maybe we should insist that the audited accounts of all community councils are made available online so that fair comparisons can be made and the residents of Manorbier and Pembroke Dock can see what their very local council tax is being spent on.

  • Phil

    Malcolm, of course town councils are not forced to do these things but some choices are stark.

    The pump-house roundabout by Asda in Pembroke Dock is THE focal point of the town and en route for all tourists using the Irish Ferry. PCC said they would not plant any more flowers there unless the town council paid for them. The roundabout is much admired for the flower displays and the council felt it should be continued.

    Incidentally the town council had a zero increase last year so over two years, works out roughly the same as the county council 5% increase.

  • John Hudson

    The cabinet’s proposed budget for next year involves planned cuts totalling £16.3m. This includes the “cut” of £2.508m arising from the proposed 5% increase in council tax. (A cut to the council, but an increase for us).

    The revenue estimates summary shows that a significant cut of £2.5m is proposed for anticipated vacancy management and unspecified one off in year savings. But it is planned to spend an additional £2.1m on an “invest to save” initiative. This is in addition to reserve provision at 31 March 2016 of £3.6m included for “transformation”.

    No further details are provided, but apparently these proposed cost reductions have been developed by officers and members during numerous seminars and workshops including a specific session during which members presented their cost reduction/efficiency initiatives.

    It is to be hoped that much more information will be forthcoming on the reasons, justifications and perhaps some inkling of the savings/efficiencies to be achieved for this £5.7m total investment/transformation.

    We are entitled to know some measure of the Leader’s much favoured “outcomes” and long term savings to be achieved by this “investment” before forgoing spending it on maintaining and delivering our services.

    The council has not achieved its planned savings for this year. Are the savings planned for 2016/17 any more achievable?

  • Perhaps what is required is for someone to calculate the county-wide cost of services transferred from PCC to community councils.

    Then we would know the true extent of the extra charges.

    After all, it is exactly the same people paying both.

  • Keanjo

    On reorganisation, PCC took over many of the service provisions which had been delegated to the community councils previously, presumably to justify the size and salaries of the proposed establishment.

    Now they appear to be desperate to offload as many of these functions as possible back to the community councils.

    Can we now anticipate a reduction in the number of officers in County Hall and a reduction in salaries?

  • Malcolm Calver

    David, you might not have been asked to see the audited accounts, I have come across ratepayers who firmly believed that the amount of the community council precept was decided by Pembrokeshire County Council, based on numbers of residents in the ward. There cannot be much difference in the amount/scope of work carried out by clerks of the different councils, so how is it that some clerks of community councils receive a salary of double and treble the total precept of other community councils?

    Many contributors to this website complain that some of the leading lights in County Hall have become county councillors due to uncontested wards. Why then do we allow co-option of community and town councillors?

    Recently seven people applied to become Tenby town councillors, the existing councillors voted to select two of the applicants for the vacancies, surely the council should have informed the applicants to stand for election.

    Phil, I understand that you wish to keep Pembroke Dock presentable but surely it cannot cost £15,000 just to buy bulbs for a roundabout (the value of a 10% rise in the community charge).

    Why should a person in a Band H property band pay three times as much rates as a person in a Band A property, surely they are both getting equal value out of the improvements.

  • Phil

    Malcolm, co-option of a community councillor only happens after many weeks advertising for candidates for an election has taken place. Community councils are not to blame if no-one puts themselves forward. Everyone prefers an election and co-option is far from perfect, but better than no new councillors at all.

    The roundabout flowers are just one of the “extras” Pembroke Dock Council now pays for. We have allocated £10,000 for play equipment as children’s parks were becoming empty spaces. We now have a street cleaner for 16 hours a week as we had so many complaints about the streets. That’s shocking as safe and clean pavements is actually a statutory duty for the County council.

    In fact the “extras” amount to far more than £15,000, but cuts have been made in other long standing budget areas to keep the total increase down.

    Incidentally Dave – town and community council accounts are now required by law to be available on websites and PDTC has theirs online.

  • John Hudson

    The Good Councillor’s Guide 2012, written for town and community councillors contains a helpful list of the powers and duties available, and the statutory derivations that enable community councils to do things, and by exclusion, not do things.

    Haverfordwest Town Council was recently asked by the county council to make a contribution towards reinstating the opening hours of the county library. This is not a direct duty or responsibility of the town council. Such a contribution could be made, using other wider but limited powers, if it can be justified as being in the interests of the inhabitants and taxpayers of Haverfordwest. Such a course of action could also be open to challenge.

    Why should the smaller tax base of Haverfordwest and other town and community councils contribute towards the cost of providing a service to a wider area of benefit that should be the proper legal responsibility of the county council?

    The county council is not saving money, it is just passing it on, or trying to.

    The Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act of 2013 made it an obligation from May 2015 for town and community councils to publish websites containing electronic notices and papers, minutes, registers of members’ interests etc. etc.

  • Dave Edwards

    Phil, community councils certainly have a legal duty to publish accounts but they don’t have to have a website. I doubt if most CCs in Pembrokeshire have one.

  • Dave, as John Hudson says, community councils in Wales have been required to maintain websites with up-to-date information since last year.

    I hope you’re not admitting that Stackpole and Castlemartin Community Council – of which I understand you’ve recently been chairman – is not in compliance?!

  • Malcolm Calver

    Phil, I presume by answers that you are a member of Pembroke Dock Town Council.

    May I correct you on what I believe is the process for the election of community and town councillors. The process I believe and please correct me if I am wrong is that the council advertises a vacancy/vacancies and they can then co-op members on to the council. The only method of stopping this is if ten members of the ward sign a petition to be sent to Pembrokeshire County Council elections unit asking for an election.

    It is a disgrace that anyone who seeks to become a member is not prepared to organise a petition calling for an election to justify their right to represent electors. An example of this was recently when seven people wrote in to be co-opted on to Tenby Town Council, but it seems were not prepared to get a mandate from the electorate of Tenby.

    I would question your statement that “everyone prefers an election and co-option is far from perfect, but better than no new councillors at all.”

    Is there any need for community/town councillors or councils especially as you are now admitting that you are employing staff to carry out work that is the statutory duty of Pembrokeshire County Council therefore the council ratepayer is paying twice over. How do you justify that to your electorate?

    May I inform you that areas of our capital city have no community council and I personally see no difference except they do not have this added financial burden on their rate demand.

    I have taken a look at the Pembroke Dock Town Council minutes and note that there are two members of Pembrokeshire County Council on the council, one even a member of that exclusive club the cabinet. I would have thought that they should have been able to sort out any problem you have with Pembrokeshire County Council as that is what they are paid for.

    I did note that there are two items in the minutes that were held in secret session, surely an organisation paid for by the ratepayers of Pembroke Dock should fully inform its residents of what is going on in the council.

  • Phil

    Malcolm, the membership of Pembroke Dock Town Council in fact includes three county councillors and no less than two of these are cabinet members (in Cllrs Perkins and Lee) and their once Labour colleague, Cllr Wilcox.

    That has made no difference to the poor state of our pavements but with your long standing association with the county council and Manorbier Community Council, you must know that their rank should not be used to benefit one community council above others. That would be improper and unfair. Whether they should have used their rank to ensure at least a reasonable level of service is another matter altogether!

    Personnel matters, where an individual’s personal details are discussed, are not allowed to be held in open meetings hence the “secret” sessions. All councils do this.

  • Phil, I’m not sure you’re right that councils are “not allowed” to discuss personal issues in public.

    In the case of “principal councils” – PCC for instance – the council “may” by resolution exclude the public. I believe something similar applies to town and community councils.

    So councils have a discretion which would not be the case if they were “not allowed”.

  • Phil

    Mike – sorry, I was trying to be brief.

    I don’t mean that we are directed by law to exclude the public from a meeting. I mean that, like every other employer, we are directed by law, regarding our employees’ rights. They have a right to privacy on some personal matters.

    You are absolutely right in that councillors (town or county) have discretion on this and must take a vote if they want to exclude the public, and that ability must never be abused. I’m with you on the barricades on that one.

  • Dave Edwards

    Phil, apologies! Stackpole and Castlemartin Community Council will soon be in compliance with a website.

  • Welcome to the barricades, Phil. I feel like I’ve been manning them almost single-handed for as long as I can remember.

    I have always taken the view that, Parliament having given the people the right to attend council meetings, we, as their elected representatives, should be absolutely certain in our own minds that excluding them is in the public interest.

    Public interest in this context does not include concealing information that might embarrass the authority.

    Unfortunately, many members seem to believe that the “may” in the legislation should be translated as “must”.

    Some many years ago, I was moved to point out that even someone as expensively educated as Cllr Johnny Allen-Mirehouse (Eton and up-market cow college) could fail to grasp this crucial distinction between a duty and a discretion (see http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/archived/July%209.html)

  • Malcolm Calver

    Not many years ago county councillors were informed that if they discussed senior staff salaries, in open council, they would be sued and look what happened.

    I am sorry but the public, who pay the salaries, have a right to be informed about the outcome of such deliberations.

    If your salary is paid for through taxation you should expect it to be revealed, but there I am only guessing it was financial as there is no clue as to the subject to be discussed.

    Maybe the minutes should record which councillors voted to go into private session.

  • Keanjo

    Local authority jobs are advertised within salary grades and there can be no reason whatever for not disclosing salaries to the public who, as Malcolm Calver writes, pay the bill. I think the only valid reason for exclusion of the public should be when matters of a personal nature are being discussed. After all secrecy breeds suspicion.

  • Phil

    I’m putting on the anorak again! (But it is quite frosty this morning).

    My understanding of the law is that it is the “position” which should be discussed in open meeting – such as street cleaners. No names should be mentioned. The difficulty is that where there is only one person in that post – such as chief executive or town clerk, any confidentiality is lost.

    I believe the current advice says that shouldn’t make any difference, but I fear most town and community councils do not always grasp this fine distinction and tend to go into automatic mode and vote to go into private and confidential when salaries come up. There are plenty of town councillors who do not hold my view on this.

    Annual accounts are put on the websites but these tend to be one total for all salaries so it’s quite tricky to know what any one position is paid.

  • John Hudson

    Details of officers’ taxable salaries are reported in the council’s accounts (but not the 12 month monitoring report to cabinet) as required by regulation, together with employer’s S&P contributions.

    Neither the out-turn monitoring report or the accounts get to council. The accounts go to the Corporate Governance Committee, in draft and audited form.

    I do not know how all 60 councillors get to know about the accounts, maybe they do not care. It is a pretty incomprehensible document that must serve some purpose.

    Reimbursement of officers’ travel and subsistence expenses are still regarded as “personal information” and are exempt from reporting and public inspection. I think disclosure can be authorised if disclosure is written into an employment contract.

    Whether the council’s new contracts of employment provide for this, I do not know.

    Community councils with budgets of over £1m have to follow these Regs.

  • Malcolm Calver

    John, many council employees/officers (especially some of those on higher salaries) I believe receive a financial reward in the form of a lump sum, on top of their salaries, to cover out of hours working should the need arise.

    It would be interesting to find out who is still receiving these payments and how much they receive?

  • Flashbang

    Malcolm Calver, that’s interesting that certain people are getting a financial reward over and above their salaries.

    A salary is paid to cover extra hours and unsocial work arrangements so any extra can be perceived as throwing money away or an inducement to cover up shady activities perpetrated by others. Who indeed is getting the goodies and for what?

  • Here in Carmarthenshire I suspect that the Modernising Education Programme has done little more than line the pockets of members of our contractor framework (presumably you have a similar system in PCC to prevent open tenders?).

    New shiny schools and en suite toilets have not yet produced the marvellous educational improvement promised. As a well known rebel I am still pushing the heresy that quality of education has something to do with teachers. The stupidity of making the more experienced members of this profession redundant to save the cost of their larger salaries as pupil numbers fall adds to the insanity.

    In my own ward the Ysgol Ffwrnes Bream Eco School was supposed to be surrounded by woodland but this was cut down as it was in the way of the build. My ward barely has the birthrate to justify a single primary school, never mind 2 of them and a futher 2 within a hundred yards of the boundary.

    Doubling the size of our Welsh language primary school with a jazzy 480 pupil new build is no doubt welcome to the middle class parents of North Llanelli who want Welsh medium education but a bitter disappointment to the disadvantaged parents in the south of the town without the use of a car to take their kids north.

    The lack of school bus provision and public transport access to Ffwrnes School was explained away as not needed as the children could walk there. There isn’t even a way that a standard bus can get near the place. The only entertainment this new edifice is giving me is endless complaints about parking, “eco” lighting illuminating the neighbourhood all night and “pupil wars” with the other large Welsh primary school in town (they are losing, ours is newer and shinier).

    I wish you luck with the 21st Century Schools programme. In other government systems when money is short, have you heard that they usually reduce capital spending to necessities only?

  • John Hudson

    Councils are required to report all taxable benefits as remuneration in the accounts.

    As far as I am aware, senior officers are expected to work a limited number of overtime hours, before they qualify for additional payment, which would be reported. Possibly directors etc work “extra” for nothing, and cannot qualify for overtime payments.

    Unsocial hours working might be subject to special arrangements which may be reflected in the basic contract, but I am not aware that any bonuses are paid. I think that I recall the council confirming that it does not pay bonuses.

  • Malcolm Calver

    John, first of all I did not indicate that it was my belief that directors were receiving extra payments or received a bonus tax free just senior officers. I would expect any extra payments to be taxed at source. Perhaps a FoI request regarding fixed payments for possible out of hours working would reveal the information.

  • Keanjo

    Going back to the Cabinet Meeting webcast which we can thank Jacob for, I watched it yesterday and what struck me was the complete absence of meaningful debate.

    There were no searching questions and the proceedings appeared to be orchestrated with Jamie the conductor and the directors the principal instrumentalists. No wonder the County Council are making such a hash of the job.

  • Miss Marple

    Keanjo, I quite agree, a carefully orchestrated load of puppets…or muppets.

  • John Devonald

    They are all muppets for Parry-Jones as we have seen in the past.

  • Keanjo

    Miss Marple, I’ve been thinking about your orchestra of muppets and trying to work out who would play the various instruments.

    In the absence of BPJ obviously Jamie would take over the baton but time could be found for him to blow his own trumpet voluntary.

    Clearly, with so many fiddlers, the string section would present no problems and there are a few basses in the merry band. Banging the drum could be Huw but perhaps he would prefer the organ. One of the more timid members might prefer the triangle.

    Anyone got any suggestions?

  • Lesley

    To a resident of Carmarthenshire this all makes very depressing reading because all your problems – and more – appear to be replicated in local government here.

    But at least you have more than one councillor ready and willing to argue and make waves; we have only the brave and principled Cllr Sian Caiach who is shouted down and laughed at every time she tries to make a valid contribution in council meetings. Dissent and criticism are not allowed in Carmarthenshire.

  • John Hudson

    The Wales Audit Office has published its Corporate Assessment Report 2015, this was “Noted” by the cabinet of 9 members on 11 January on the basis of a summary report. The cabinet is to “monitor” further reports in due course.

    Please Jacob can you, as a backbench councillor, let us know whether this important document has been disseminated to ALL 60 councillors who, after years of being excluded from such matters, are now being exhorted to take some interest in how the council is managed, and begin to address shortcomings.

    Perhaps the administrative machine sees some benefit or merit in keeping this significant document out of the public debate arena.

    Will this report ever get to full council for debate by all councillors, or are the majority content to continue to let officers get on with it and remain disengaged from the improvement process?

  • Dave Edwards

    Keanjo, I don’t know the musical talents of other cabinet members, but I believe that Huw George did play the organ in Bethany Chapel, Pembroke Dock.

  • Timetraveller

    The smoothly and efficiently run council does not really need debate. Select the most cost effective option at senior officer – cabinet level and simply go with it. Debate simply causes delays and additional costs.

    Many of the choices made will upset someone, in a nutshell, councils provide services and in economising, someone somewhere will not get a service that might have expected. Pick your losers as not being particularly vocal (old people, social services) and the electorate will keep buying into you.

    BPJ seems to have expounded this management philosophy throughout his career, effectively usurping the decision making process rightly the prerogative of the elected body.

    The elected body is just left to badger officials over consituent complaints and effectively rubber stamp “decisions” made at managed meetings. Perhaps a little honesty to the electorate would be to admit the situation and reduce the SRAs accordingly.

    After all, if decision making is deferred to the overly remunerated paid staff, we don’t exactly need quite the level of talent in the cabinet that Jamie has advocated. We only need monkeys and they only need peanuts.

  • John, councillors have been invited to a ‘members’ seminar’ on 15th February. The invite tells us: “The Council is required to provide an Action Plan that responds to the Formal Recommendation by the 29 February 2016.”

    Like you, I wonder if this will ever be discussed in the open. I suspect it won’t be.

    The next full council meeting isn’t until March, and as for discussion by committees, I think this is also unlikely as the next time the audit and corporate governance committees meet after the February seminar isn’t until April.

  • John Hudson

    It appears that more and more of this council’s business is to be run behind closed doors at members-only seminars which are not decision making arenas.

    The public will have no idea what is presented, discussed or how, in the light of what happened at these seminars, reports are drafted for committees/cabinet. No public minutes are kept.

    I would have thought it was a basic requirement of accountability (and transparency!) that all the WAO reports were presented to council. At the moment councillors can deny ever having got them. I feel a letter to the auditor coming on.

    One of the council’s priorities is said to be tackling poverty. The scrutiny process has been found wanting and budget seminars are held behind closed doors out of the public view, but the consultation process is open – let’s tackle poverty by increasing charges across a broad spectrum of council services that our “customers” use and have to pay for. This may reduce demand and we can then close services down.

    Let’s not inquire too closely, or at all, about why the approved cuts for this financial year have not been achieved to the tune of some £2m, but let’s roll these savings over into next year’s budget and seek to cut back even further.

    Best not, given the underachievement this year, even question the robustness of these 2016/17 savings plans and whether any improved monitoring arrangements need to be put in place. Best leave officers to sort things out and carry the can. We councillors can keep well out of it.

    Let’s not consider where this lowest council tax policy has led us and consequential deficits this has caused e.g a dilapidated property portfolio, where we now have to flog it off because we can’t afford to maintain it. But we can say that services need to be delivered in new ways and are not “property based”. (Except for 21st Century Schools).

    Let’s not consider who benefits most from the “lowest council” tax where occupiers of a property valued at Band A – £44,001 to £65,000 pays 6/9ths of the Band D property valued at £91,001 to £123,000 which pays 9/9ths, while Band G properties – £223,001 to £324,000 pay 15/9ths, and those few properties valued at £424,001 and over pay 21/9ths.

    By this gearing effect higher banded properties “save” or benefit the most. Particularly if they do not use and have to pay direct charges for council services.

    Let’s not consider that parents are more likely to have to pay more for services they and their children use, now that the Council have increased, and will continue to increase charge rates by inflation. We do not need to identify these charge rates.

    Let’s not consider that most our increased charges were based on full cost recovery a couple of years ago, and that we have now claimed to be reducing or saving costs by efficiency measures.

    Let’s not consider the merits of putting by some £2m in an “invest to save” initiative, rather than spending it on maintaining services.

    Let’s not consider the proposal to put by some £3.7m in reserve for unspecified “transformation”.

    Let’s not consider or identify the services that might be maintained for this money, or those that will be given up. Certainly, do not provide or even ask for any details of planned for benefits arising from the proposed £5.7m invest to save/transformation. We might just be held to account, although this is a remote possibility if we councillors do not ask questions.

    Let’s not consider that the effect of asking community councils to take over, or contribute towards the cost of providing services, means pushing the cost onto a smaller tax base, thereby increasing the cost to tax payers even more. This is not our problem.

    Let’s not consider the cost of using the Cleddau Bridge toll receipt profit (£1.8m p.a.) paid by the small number of bridge users to maintain it. This profit from the few can be applied to county-wide highways expenditure for the benefit of the many.

    Let’s not draw attention to the taxayers’ money the council wasted on legal expenses, senior officers’ pay-offs, grants schemes, failed consultations, children’s services, education etc etc. Nobody needs to be held to account, again it is best to keep quiet.

    Let’s use the current budget consultation, reinforcing preferences for cutting services that the majority do not use, so that the minority services may be easily scrapped.

    As a priority keep in mind that it is our, the council’s money and budget, that has little to do with taxpayers.

    We do not therefore have to meaningfully keep them informed in a clear way about what the proposed cuts mean for their levels of service.

    Last of all let’s all pick away at largely irrelevant small savings of little consequence in the scheme of things, ignoring the huge savings that will have to be made eventually. We can waste more money in keeping services limping along, until they are unsustainable and have to be shut down.

  • Michael Williams

    Well, well, David. I didn’t know Huw George was a musician! An organist indeed.

    What other hidden talents does the reverend gentleman possess I wonder? A good fiddler?

    I can’t understand why he would be allowed to leave Bethany with such multiple talents to offer.

    Organists of quality are rare these days, as they can be beastly instruments to get a good tune from. An organist usually has to lead, but I’ve always considered him to be best in the back seat.

  • Malcolm Calver

    I am sure if Michael Williams is that interested in the history of Cllr Huw George, especially his organ playing days at Bethany he should consult that other esteemed County Hall IPPG member, Cllr Brian Hall.

    Cllr Hall’s residence is within spitting distance of Bethany Chapel and indeed after a short walk they could have played the organ together or studied how to become fiddlers together. I suppose if you are playing at the organ you would not want to upset the locals.

    I am sure if asked, Cllr George would reveal that playing an organ in his younger days was good for his communication skills in later life.

  • Don Key

    John, you seem to have the answer to all the council’s problems. I assume you will be standing in the election next year?

  • John Hudson

    I can’t see that I have provided any answers to the way this council should be run, and would not claim this. I have been trying to follow the money closely, and how it is used for about 20 years now, and am still none the wiser.

    There is no link between what is planned to be spent and what it will buy in terms of services. Much less is there any meaningful, understandable monitoring of actual spend and service provision against plans. As I have to pay, I, as we all do, have the right to question the budget and anything else that takes our interest or affects us.

    It seems councillors will not, and cannot do so by the system of corporate governance. The auditor has found that the majority of councillors lack capacity and motivation to challenge and in addition, that officers have not always provided full information to councillors to enable them to fulfil their statutory responsibilities.

    There does not seem to be any motivation by the majority of councillors (c. £14,000 p.a.) to improve matters, and I can’t see any united political movement that can change things.

    In my view a disunited “independent” majority of candidates will never achieve this. The council, in a political vacuum, will of necessity continue to be officer led.

  • Clive Davies

    At least John is honest and doesn’t collar c.£14K for doing and achieving nothing as so many of the councillors seem to, many of them with well paid jobs, substantial business interests and/or significant personal means.

    I suppose we’re the mugs for voting in the well-heeled so they can grab what to them is small change although to many of us it would be quite a tidy full-time income.

    Deference I suppose.

  • Timetraveller

    John, I think that rather depressingly sums things up. The only saving grace is that officers do seem to be slightly less creative of late.

    I would imagine that this is in part to some degree of scrutiny brought in by the auditor, some councillors (wonder who?) and a slightly more inquisitive press. It could also be due to the departure of the erstwhile organ grinder.

    It all goes to rein them in a little, but hardly the dynamic pioneering authority they used to like describing themselves as – more like life support today.

    Also it was always virtually certain the police would bury the Pembroke Dock grants investigation.

    Still politics is well described as the Art of the Possible, who knows what will turn up next.

  • John Hudson

    The following is an extract from the WAO 2014/15 Annual Improvement Report being submitted to the select few on the council’s Audit Committee this week:-

    The Council has generally robust, if rather traditional, financial management arrangements that have served it well, and it is developing a longer-term strategic view although members are not sufficiently involved in the planning and monitoring of the cost reduction/income generation plans

    18 The Council has a good track record in delivering identified cost reduction measures within year against the planned actions it approved, although it did not report against specific savings proposals making it difficult to identify areas that achieved the cost reduction targets and those that did not.

    19 The Council’s corporate framework for financial planning has served it well, although links between financial plans and improvement plans could be clearer; the Council is now extending its approach providing a more strategic view better suited to the escalating financial challenges that it faces.

    20 The Council’s financial management and control arrangements are being effectively managed, although a number of issues have arisen this year which delayed our ability to sign off the accounts. We will undertake further work in this area in 2015.

    21 The Council’s financial governance arrangements to review and challenge performance are adequate but links between financial and service performance are not clear. This makes it difficult to assess the value for money being provided by the Council’s services.

    22 Members are not involved enough in monitoring progress towards achieving planned cost reductions. They are also not provided with enough information about poorly performing areas limiting their ability to challenge services. However, the Council’s current savings plans for 2014-15 are fit for purpose and are generally being effectively managed.

    23 The Council has efficiency savings plans in place for 2015-16 and 2016-17 but new funding cuts have placed additional pressure to identify further savings and some difficult decisions will need to be made.

    Why don’t these reports get presented at full council?

    It’s almost as if the “establishment” wants to shelter members from any accountability/responsibility, and/or keep such views limited to the few Audit and Corporate Governance committee members, where it can be buried until the next critical audit report.

    Officers cannot do this on their own, all councillors should be involved, for better or worse.

  • Goldingsboy

    Clive Davies makes some good points but, to refashion a phrase from the late Willie Whitelaw, the leadership of the IPG go around our county continually “stirring up apathy”, and that’s the real problem.

  • John Hudson

    Timetraveller, I am afraid it gets even more depressing, I attended the Audit Committee yesterday.

    This seven member elite committee, which rarely meets (previous meeting September 2015) had before it a 331 page agenda to consider.

    This excluded a verbal update by the Director of Development on Asset Management and Valuation. (No written report – but impartial full minutes will be produced!)

    The council’s annual audit letter 2014/15 (agenda item 15) commented that testing had identified errors in the way assets were valued and resulted in a £25,000,000 reduction in the value of assets. The Director revealed that officers responsible for these calculations were unaware of CIPFA “guidelines” issued in 2010/11 on the way assets were to be valued.

    However, as all responsible officers at that time had left the service, it was not possible to ascertain why they had not been not informed, or why revised guidelines had not been implemented.

    Agenda item 13 (239 pages) covered 5 separate external assurance provider reports. The Audit Committee were invited to consider these and refer any service specific risks to the relevant overview and scrutiny committee for further consideration. Given the lack of engagement by most O&S members, it is difficult to see what this would achieve.

    However, the committee agreed to defer detailed consideration of these reports to workshops, and report findings back to themselves for decision and presumably, if necessary, referral on to other committees for action. All highly commendable but the reports: 1. OGC Pembroke Learning Campus Gateway Review was dated October 2015; 2. The WAO Financial Resilience of Councils in Wales – April 2014; 3. WAO Supporting the Independence of Older People: Are Councils doing enough? – October 2015; 4.WAO Safeguarding Arrangements in Welsh Councils – July 2015 and finally, 5. The council’s own Annual Improvement Report 2014/15 – dated September 2015.

    The third report may be of immediate relevance to the budget cuts decisions council members are considering at the moment.

    By the time the Audit Committee’s reports emerge and are referred to other places, you have to wonder how relevant and useful they will be. Always assuming that something useful will come out at the end of this process.

  • Faux Espoir

    As regarding ‘reality bites’ as a headline, the council are now in a position to go to consultation on the proposed Haverfordwest school. There are no surprises in their preferred choice with Director of Education adamant in her stance that the sixth form centre within Pembrokeshire College will go ahead.

    The manipulation of headteachers within the primary sector by officers sees the educationalists within the county fighting each other over who is to blame for the results at GCSE.

    The pragmatist may well see it wholly as inflated egos from the secondary sector to blame their primary pedagogues for the inadequate performance of their pupils, whilst the education director can use collated data to disprove such a theory, backed up by the WG ‘Red, Yellow or Green’ marking system.

    The challenge is really to identify if there is a major drop in academic standards when the pupils reach 16, or if the primary schools inflate end of Key Stage 2 results to make them ‘shining lights’? Remember at management level the primary headteachers outnumber the secondary heads by nearly 9:1 so the Director has a captivated audience to do battle.

    Haverfordwest’s two schools find themselves in turmoil, both now having acting headteachers to oversee the amalgamation process. Staff morale at both is low but especially at Tasker Milward: designated as a red school by the WG this is compounded with the announcement of job losses – 4 teaching staff, cover supervisor and support technicians plus a change in hours reducing many contracts of employment.

    The council have been troubled in their approach to developing a 21st Century School for Haverfordwest at the expense of wishes of teachers, parents and most importantly the children. Their future now hangs by a thread as another EGM of the council is called for Thursday 25th February to endorse the director’s ‘fait accompli’.

    Councillors have been quick to rebuff questions that the director’s proposal has no opposition, where they receive just 2/3 objections to the issue of sixth form education in Haverfordwest.

    The aforementioned Haverfordwest councillors have been in stunned silence in the chamber during debates on the subject. To display the contempt of pitching no real objections belies the document responses when the consultation began over 12 months ago which are conveniently not included in any new consultation.

    Results from Pembrokeshire College for last summer’s A Level exams have also reached the public domain despite their marketing strategy to divert attention away from how they lagged behind the town’s two secondary schools they are to replace. The council chamber has form in last minute reprieves for secondary schools when councillors read the responses received in relation to Ysgol Dewi Sant & Solva closures.

    Two choices remain: the director proposes a compromise to endorse the sixth form option in a new school, secure the 21st Century Schools funding for the project [but lose the college’s involvement with the Pembroke campus at considerable expense to the taxpayer having started ground work with a policy of ‘at risk’; or two: veto the wishes of those who will be affected by having no option but to attend the College for sixth form education and incur the wrath and legal wrangling of the board of trustees for the Tasker Milward and Picton Charity.

  • Timetraveller

    I don’t think anyone is surprised by this John. The trouble is this this authority has such a limited agenda – costs and costs alone.

    There is a growing awareness that care of the elderly is best dealt with by more joined up thinking. This is counter to the buck passing between councils, NHS and other agencies. Somehow I can’t envisage PCC being partners, who could trust them?

    As for schools, Pembrokeshire College is the cheapest sixth form option – simples!

    Somehow I’m not surprised assets don’t add up. I’m sceptical that they are so ignorant of the rules, but one is hardly likely to say we were just trying it on.

    Anyone would think officers deliberately approved grants for Mr McCosker if one carried on with this line of thinking. We all know they simply made mistakes, it’s so human!

  • John Hudson

    I am of the view that internally, officers on the ground were under pressure to spend the external grants that had been levered in, before time ran out an the grants were lost.

    Short cuts in due process, in favour of the outcome to spend the money in time was the inevitable result. (You can see this in the 21st Century Schools Programme.)

    There does need to be an examination of senior officers’ advice that guidelines could be ignored.

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