Thursday 1 November 2012

Another job for the Ombudsman

After a brief diversion to investigate the shenanigans surrounding the so-called Independent Plus Political Group of county councillors in Pembrokeshire, the Ombudsman for Public Services has been dragged back to his normal day job in Carmarthenshire to carry out an investigation into a complaint of breach of the code of conduct by council leader Kevin Madge over his involvement in the Sainsbury's press release scandal.

Before we turn to that, it's worth mentioning a letter Kev wrote to the Western Mail to dismiss suggestions that Carmarthenshire's ludicrous entry procedures for members of the public wishing to observe council meetings were heavy-handed, intrusive and unwelcoming. As letters go, it is probably worthy of a gold medal in the disingenuousness stakes, beginning with the near-certainty that it wasn't Kev who actually wrote it.

Here are the facts:
  • Members of the public are required to sign a legal undertaking that they will not record meetings, and provide their home addresses. No other council does this. The "rule" which they are agreeing to abide by is not in the council's constitution or standing orders.
  • The council's ban on recording is not absolute because on several occasions TV cameras have been allowed in, but only when it suits.
  • Members of the public who take up Kev's invitation to go along to meetings of the Executive Board to see "how decisions are taken" will be bitterly disappointed because the decisions are made at closed meetings of the board before the public is allowed in.
  • The council does insist that children sign the undertakings not to record, as Kev could have found out if he had asked the Reception Staff who were ordered from above not to let them in otherwise.

Finally, Kev comes over all personal in his letter. "Anyone who knows me", he says, knows that he is by nature a listening person, and he wants the council to be more open and transparent.

This would have been rather more believable if he insisted that the recommendations made by the council's Policy and Scrutiny Committee to allow recording (recommendations which took 18 months to produce) were discussed at next week's meeting of the Executive Board. Instead, the democratic decision will either be ignored or allowed to drag on for months to come.

He could also have insisted that the exemption applied on an item to approve the transfer of public toilets to community councils be dropped. Instead, any members of the public and press present will be asked to leave when this most sensitive and secret of items comes up. That's openness and transparency for you.

He could also have allowed discussion of the Sainsbury's press release at the last meeting of the full council, instead of which every trick in the book (and some not in any book) was deployed to ensure that it was not allowed onto the agenda.

Readers may recall that the press release accused Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM of "deliberately sabotaging" two Sainsbury's planning applications. He was challenged to provide evidence, but remained quiet for the very good reason that there is no evidence and that the accusation was untrue. He was asked to apologise and withdraw the remarks, but refused to do so. He also made sure that all discussion of the subject was blocked.

Not surprising, then, that he now faces an investigation.

This is not the first time that the Ombudsman has been asked to investigate statements made by Kevin Madge, although it is the first time that the Ombudsman has decided to carry out an investigation against him

In 2009 Kev was involved in a spat with Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM when he accused the Assembly Member of doing nothing to attract EU convergence funding to Carmarthenshire (Western Mail article here).

It will be interesting to see how Kevin explains Labour's decision yesterday to vote with a clutch of right-wing Tories against an increase in the EU budget in view of the fact that Wales is unquestionably a net beneficiary of EU spending.

With so much of the British press rabidly opposed to anything the EU does, we don't often get to hear the facts. So here goes.

The EU is seeking a 5% increase on its budget for the seven years from 2014-2020. Currently the EU's budget is approximately £100 billion per year, which is about what Britain spends on the NHS.

Britain is one of 12 net contributors to the budget, although the UK government and the EU Commission differ on how much Britain actually contributes. According to the UK government, the net contribution for 2011 was £8.1 billion, whereas the EU reckons it was £5.85 billion. Bearing in mind that the UK Treasury did not know how many people would be affected by the abolition of the 10p tax rate, you can decide who is right.

The budget increase that the Tory rebels and Labour are opposing is therefore approximately between £290 million and £400 million a year, depending on whose figures you believe. The current UK defence budget is £37.5 billion.

Over the last 20 years or so, the proportion of the EU budget which is spent on agriculture has declined from 70% to around 40%, while the proportion spent on measures to promote economic growth, employment and regional aid has risen to just below 50%. Wales benefits from both categories.

So next time Kev or anyone else from the Labour Party talks about sending a message to Westminster about the cuts, you may want to ask why they voted for cuts to the EU budget which will hit Wales.

Finally, anyone who goes along to one of Kev's roadshows of local meetings of the Executive Board might want to ask him how many of the council's luxury cars he has at his disposal. Unfortunately it is unlikely that you will be given an opportunity because only selected representatives of the local community will be given a chance to speak and ask questions at those meetings.


Anonymous said...

I may write to and ask that they enable a 'like' button for blogs.

a2 said...

busy busy