Friday 6 January 2012

Gongs: Cor, Bloody 'Ell

CBE - Cor, Bloody 'Ell was the reaction of many of a resident of Carmarthenshire as they found that the County Council had once again jacked up car parking charges to coincide with the start of the New Year and the announcement that the council's Chief Executive, Mark James, was awarded a CBE in the New Year's Honours List.

Of course, higher parking charges are just the start of what will be a very grim year indeed for many local people, as they are hit by a double whammy of cuts in council services and increases in charges for what is left.

Earlier this week BBC Wales reported on its news bulletin that the council was considering closing its two museums - Parc Howard in Llanelli and the County Museum in Abergwili to save an estimated £150,000. One of those interviewed wondered whether the council had factored in the cost of conserving the fabric of the empty buildings and their exhibits. Probably not.

Cynical viewers were probably asking themselves whether this was not just the latest PR ploy by this most PR obsessed of councils. Closure of the museums would upset a great many people and save next-to-nothing, so "rescuing" them will be a pretty easy thing to do.

And lo and behold, a couple of days later the Executive Board met, and both Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer launched their bids to save the museums.

Viewers of the BBC report familiar with the ways of Carmarthenshire County Council will have noted the use by the council of one of its favourite excuses when a spokesperson announced that the council was not legally obliged to provide a service. This formula is trotted out to cover all sorts of different scenarios. A friend of mine requested a traffic report commissioned by the council in connection with a major planning application. Back came the answer that the council was not legally obliged to publish information of this kind, with a helpful tip that he could make a Freedom of Information Request if he so wished.

But back to the CBE. To put things into context, Mark James is one of the highest paid people in Wales, and for the last ten years he has tightened his grip on Carmarthenshire County Council to the point where the elected councillors are reduced to rubber stamping his decisions under a constitution which has been turned into a straight jacket that allows for no real debate or dissent. Under his visionary leadership millions of pounds of public money have been poured into a succession of failed and failing ventures, and now the cash is running out.

Over the next three years, the council will be spending significantly more on refurbishing and maintaining its own office buildings than it will on repairing the county's roads. That tells you all you need to know about priorities.

This year we can look forward to more school closures, the closure of libraries, massive cuts in adult education budgets, the closure of homes for the elderly, cuts to respite care and much else besides. Odd to think, then, that just before Christmas the council voted to give yet more money to the Towy Community Church for its evangelical bowling alley. And no proposals have been made so far to scrap the council's propaganda sheet, Carmarthenshire News.

While all that is going on, Mr James and his family will be on their way up to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and receive recognition for what he has done to Carmarthenshire as a "Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire".

The British honours system has been in disrepute for as long as anyone alive can remember. Almost 100 years ago Lloyd George was doing his bit by selling peerages and other gongs, and the latest list is full of the same old establishment types, minor celebrities, sports "personalities", party hacks, dodgy business people, pen pushers and donors to party coffers. True, in order to prop the system up there are now more names of ordinary people nominated by members of the public, we are told, but the daft Ruritanian titles remain, and the sub-post mistress with 50 years of unblemished service finds herself briefly rubbing shoulders with fox hunting hedge fund managers who have given so generously to Conservative Party coffers.

So here's a proposal. Let's put two fingers up to this farce and create a democratic Welsh honour, with medals awarded by the Welsh Government to those who have made an outstanding contribution to Welsh life in music, education, poetry, sports, the Welsh language, community life, industry, etc. An honour nominated and awarded by the people of Wales to its sons and daughters. And not an overpaid county chief executive or party hack in sight.


Anonymous said...

Mark James to get a CBE???!!! How the BLOODY HELL did that happen???!!! Who will have nominated him?

Cneifiwr said...

The true answer is that we will never know, although it was almost certainly Meryl Gravell and her cabinet colleagues.