Thursday 12 January 2012

January Council Meeting Part 1 : Chief Constable Knacker calls

Off to Carmarthen for the first meeting of the full council this year.

The public was ushered into the gallery in the middle of a minute's silence being held in memory of Labour's Cllr Dewi Enoch, and had therefore missed the apologies for absence. Looking round the chamber, this month's apologies must have been a long list judging by the large number of empty seats on the Independent and Labour benches, but fortunately all of the usual suspects had turned up to perform for us, and it was obvious from some of the straining waistbands and bulges that quite a few of the councillors had eaten more mince pies than they should have.

Facing them were half a dozen or so of the senior officers, all but one of whom remained silent throughout the next two and a half hours, but then the chief executive was there with an answer for everything, so perhaps they needn't have bothered.

Seated on the grand high podium behind the officers and in front of the councillors and public sat the Great and the Good, including this time Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police, Ian Arundale. Any hopes that he had come to take the chief executive in for questioning over the latest Press Office scandal were quickly dashed.

The self-congratulatory announcements were rather muted this time, with Mark James getting only polite applause for his CBE rather than the usual thunderous ovation, and Cllr Siân Caiach mischievously stood to announce that Carmarthenshire had won Private Eye's Legal Bullies of the Year Award in the magazine's Rotten Boroughs column. She also hoped, forlornly, that the council would offer its apologies for the arrest and appalling treatment of Jacqui Thompson.

The Chair, Ivor Jackson, was not standing for any of this. "We don't want to get the new year off to a start like that", he glowered.

Undeterred, Cllr Caiach popped up a few seconds later to suggest that it would be easy and very cheap to record council meetings using the council's sound system, and thereby provide any interested party with an accurate and reliable record of who said what at council meetings. As it is, all we have are the unreliable and often less than accurate official minutes.

Cllr Pam Palmer, leader of the Independents and cabinet member for everything from food hygiene to "democracy" was in particularly bossy form. She was prepared to consider this suggestion, she snarled, before shouting "BUT it will depend on the COST".

Chief Executive Mark James sneered menacingly that a recording may prove to be a double-edged sword because it would also record councillors who got their facts wrong. As we know, Mark James CBE never gets anything wrong, and all his strategic "investments" of our money will one day turn out to be brilliant. But not in our lifetime.

Perhaps Mr James was dropping a hint about the next round of constitutional changes due to be announced soon. Will they include penalties for councillors who deviate from the Mark James Big Book of Facts (exempt from publication)?

The Chief Constable rose, and a Powerpoint presentation popped up on a large screen behind him. He got straight to the point. Could he have a 5% increase in the police precept, please?

What followed was an unmitigated tale of woe. Dyfed Powys was the best performing police force in the country, he claimed, but it was now facing 20% cuts to its budget and the worst crisis in policing in 150 years.

There would be an impact on front-line policing, and 2012 would present a whole range of new challenges, including the Olympics and new drains on its budget, such as having to pay to access the Police National  Computer - previously funded centrally, but this year the force would have to pay out as much as the cost of running its single helicopter.

Dyfed Powys is the most rural police force in Wales and England and covers the largest geographical area, and yet the government had also cut its rural support grant.

In order to maintain the policing service at the levels we had 10-15 years ago, he claimed, the precept would have to rise by 80%, so the 5% being asked for, equivalent to £9.45 per year on a Band D property, was very modest.

Up popped a helpful slide showing Band D council tax rates for the four counties covered by Dyfed Powys, and Carmarthenshire - the best-run, the most efficient, the shining beacon to all lesser authorities was also briefly exposed as the most expensive to live in. The councillors and officers averted their eyes and pretended they had not seen it.

On and on he went with dire warnings. Because chief constables cannot make serving police officers redundant, support staff would have to be cut and police officers taken out of front-line service and put into clerical jobs. The helicopter was under threat, and if that goes, the nearest helicopter available would be one based in Shropshire. More police stations would have to close. Until now, the police had responded to every call, but in future only emergencies would be a priority.

After a good start, a great many eggs were now going into this pudding, and at one point the Chief Constable even said that all recent terrorist incidents had had links to Carmarthenshire. Really? The 7/7 bombers had sourced some of their chemicals from the county, and now the force would have to prepare for the possibility of a terrorist attack to coincide with the Olympics.

Finally we reached the last slide and the Chief Constable resumed his seat. There were just four words in Welsh in the Powerpoint presentation, and one of those was wrong. The word for "questions" is spelt cwestiynau and not cwestiwnnau. There were lots of cwestiwnnau from councillors who appeared to have become a little sceptical.

What about the force's lavish car policy which had provided a fleet of top of the range BMWs for senior officers and their spouses? Nothing to do with me, said Knacker. That was the Police Authority's decision, and it had been made to save money.

What about the police station at Ammanford, now threatened with closure? Ah, that had been built under a PFI scheme for reasons the Chief Constable could not understand. It was the wrong building in the wrong place, and payments to the company involved were now in excess of £0.5 million a year, and rising.

What about the new state of the art Major Incident Response centre near Carmarthen? Well, that had been paid for by the Welsh Assembly Government, and coincidentally a major exercise was going on there today. Contrary to criticism that the place was a gigantic white elephant standing empty most of the time, it was now a hive of activity. So much so that the police force had recruited someone to drum up more business for it.

Kevin Madge (Labour leader) cannot let any discussion go without offering his thoughts, even though he rarely has anything to say. Off he went on a ramble. He could remember the 1980s - a reference to the role of the police in the miners' strike - and that was why nobody in the Valleys was going to see the new film about Thatcher. But things had got better, and it was all about working together now.

Cneifiwr was not mad about Mrs T either, but he can reveal that the core message of the film is that megalomaniac leaders who ignore all criticism and bully everyone around them usually come to a sad end. Perhaps Mark James and Pam Palmer could go as a couple, or they may face a bleak future explaining to fellow residents of their respective homes about plans for draconian constitutional amendments.

How much of the force's budget came from the precept paid by ratepayers, a Plaid councillor politely asked. Ho hum, I'll get back to you on that, came the reply.

Hang on a minute, we had just listened to a long litany of dire warnings about financial Armageddon and cuts, with a request for a 5% rise in the precept (whereas 80% was really needed to maintain service levels), but Mr Arundale did not know what percentage of his budget was being contributed by local tax payers.

Cllr Stephen James, officially an Independent councillor but a man who also finds time to act as deputy chairman for Llanelli's Conservative Club, heaved his huge frame to a vertical position. He had been reading the Daily Mail. This was a disgrace, he said, when so much money was being handed out to foreigners in overseas aid. Not one penny was being cut from the aid budget, and here we were facing cuts in local policing. He wanted the council to write a strong letter to the Home Secretary.

Nobody thought to tackle the Chief Constable on the actual extent of the terrorist threat to Dyfed Powys, or to ask him why this rural area of Wales was having to fork out for the Olympics, when at most all we may see is the Tongan Women's Wrestling team stopping off at Pont Abraham service station (the only motorway service station in the whole Dyfed Powys area) for a cuppa and a digestive. Nobody queried why so much time and money was apparently being spent on training for major incidents while front-line policing was being axed. We may be well prepared for an Islamist attack on Llandeilo, but pub brawls, burglaries and drug dealing will present a bigger challenge.

One councillor pointed out that he would have a tough job explaining a 5% rise in the precept when the local police station was being shut.

Another was so enthusiastic that he appeared to call for a vote to approve the Chief Constable's demand straight away.

The Chair brought discussion to an end, and chaos ensued. It was clear to everyone in the chamber except for Chair Ivor Jackson that there were now two motions. One called on the council to write to the Home Secretary, and the second would have been in support of his request for a 5% increase. Names were mixed up, and the chair started floundering. Fortunately Mark James was on hand to intervene and explain that councillors could not vote to approve the increase in the precept at this meeting, and finally there was unanimous support for a letter to go to the Home Secretary.

Let's hope Stephen James is not given the job of writing it.


Anonymous said...

i'm not sure if ammanford police station is a no go area, but it does have a lot of controversy, especially after yesterday's and todays revelations.

built in 2001, apparently 1million pounds was whispered at the time, but apparently it cost 2.5m according to the paper.

anywy, labour councillor cooper spoke to the evening post, aying basically that by the time the lease is up, it could cost 15m in total.

who built the police station? trj.
who is the pfi company? dolef cyf.
who own dolef cyf? look it up on google, the answer is there.

translate dolef cyf into english and the mutation is remarkable. who s having a secret cry?

if it was correct the chinese whispers back then, as it is just over ten years old, even if it was leased for 200k a year, that means it has been paid for twice over.
if it did cost 2m, it would have been paid for.. i haven't a clue where the 700k a year the inspector was mentioning in the south wales guardian comes from.

then again, how did councillor cooper come to his 15m estimate?

the lease is for 30 years. if it was 500k a year, that is 15million.
so, how is it that the rent has gone up to 700k? if it was 700k a year for 30 years, that equates to 21million pounds.

who gave planning permission to build it? obviously ccc . i wonder if anyone had the inclination to think that the rent was a bit excessive.. even if it was 200k a year, that is 6m over the term.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Chief Constable Ian Arundale confirmed that the station in Foundry Road - which replaced the town’s red-brick Edwardian station in 2001 - is costing £700,000 a year, a quarter of his total estates’ budget.

Councillor Peter Cooper, a member of Dyfed-Powys Police Authority, which holds the force's purse strings, said the station could have cost the authority another £15 million by then.

When the station in Foundary Road opened in 2001 it was reported to have cost between £2 million and £3 million.

The annual cost of the PFI to build the station is not included in the publicly available parts of the draft police budget for 2012-13, but a police estate strategy published last year said it cost £668,047 that year.

Mr Cooper said the repayment was not fixed and went up with inflation, adding: "In ten years it could be up to £1 million a year." He said 60 per cent of the building was not being used, adding: "It is a waste of time and money."

yes, that is agreeable, t is a waste of money.. a waste of tax money people cannot afford to pay them.

Mr Arundale said: "It's a PFI which, in hindsight, you cannot understand why we entered into it,"

yes!! with hindsight, they must have seen them coming.

The Chief Constable said he had been holding talks with the company which ran the PFI to seek a deal to reduce the cost.

a bit like asking a landlord to cut the rent by half. as if the council will cut a rent down to £45if a tenant asked, so why would the police's landlord do the same?

where were all these councillor's back in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010? someone must have known something, why was it kept quiet for so long? how come it's taken all this time for it to warrant a mention? obviously mr arundale recognisess there is a problem, how come his predecessor didn't mention it?

what a mess (anon2)

Cneifiwr said...

Thank you for that very interesting comment, Anon2. The Jones family must be laughing all the way to the bank!