Tuesday 31 March 2015

Pledges and commitments

Not many readers will remember Labour's manifesto for the 2012 council elections, and Kevin Madge is probably hoping that you don't, but for anyone interested in refreshing their memory, the document can be found here.


The centre piece of the manifesto was to start building council houses again. A recent Freedom of Information request showed that after three years in power, Kevin Madge's council has built just 11 2-bedroom bungalows for the elderly and one specially adapted bungalow. A report published by the council in September 2013 showed that the bungalows cost £535,000 more than budgeted.

Looked at another way, Kevin Madge's contribution to the ludicrous target of 15,000+ new homes set out in the council's Local Development Plan currently stands at 0.0008%.

All of the new bungalows are in the Labour-held Llanelli constituency, and not one has been built in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Plaid) or Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Tory).

Money to build new council houses should come from revenues previously sent to something called the Housing Revenue Account, a UK set-up which is estimated to have sucked £51 million out of the county during the period 1999 to 2011.

Incidentally, scrapping the HRA so that councils like Carmarthenshire could retain "surplus" council house rents and start building new homes, was one of the biggest achievements of Plaid's Jonathan Edwards in the last parliament. Labour initially refused to back his campaign.

If progress has been almost non-existent since Kevin Madge became leader, the outlook for the next three years is unclear at best, with the council saying that it is currently holding a consultation, and that it will announce its policy in the autumn:

At the present time, around £12m has been identified in our business plan over next three years to support increasing the supply of affordable housing, of which new build may be a component.

Note the use of the word "may".

The second strand of Labour's policy in this area is to rely on the planning system to deliver so-called affordable housing.

The manifesto commitment was very vague, committing only to "aim for an appropriate percentage of social housing in new private estates".

What is appropriate? In practice "appropriate" turns out to mean zero (Stradey Park in Llanelli) to bugger all. Almost without fail, developers who agree to modest levels of affordable housing as a part of their planning briefs end up going back to the council to ask for lower targets.

There is a current example of this at Ffos Las where the developer committed to deliver 15% of the planned 280 new homes as affordable housing. The company is now asking for a reduction in its commitments, and the council is refusing to publish a feasibility study produced by the developer's agents to justify this application.

Just as developers invariably ask for a reduction in their commitments, the council agrees to drop its targets.

The result is that, according to a recent Welsh Government study, Carmarthenshire is ranked 21st out of 22 Welsh councils in terms of delivery of affordable housing.


Among the many other manifesto, um, commitments there are a lot which nobody could pin down, such as:

  • Provide our communities with strong leadership
  • Work diligently to eradicate poverty
  • Work closely with and help develop the rural community
  • Review the work of the Tourism Review Board
  • Liaise widely to improve the welfare of elderly people (whenever Cneifiwr was stuck for something to say in his monthly reports to his old boss, he would say he had "liaised widely". It never worked.)
  • Seek new opportunities with Town and Community Councils
And so on and so on, for page after page. It would be easier to nail a jelly to the ceiling.

Then there is a category of downright bizarre promises:

  • Improve signage for motorists entering Carmarthenshire (presumably preceded by a man waving a red flag)
  • Establish new bridleways for horses (as opposed to bridleways for lamas, and in any case a pledge which appears to have been forgotten)
Charging for school buses

There are some promises which could be taken either way:

  • Undertake a complete review of all school transport (if "review" meant introducing charges for children aged 16+, this promise has been met)

And then there is a large list of broken promises or things which just never got any further than a bullet point list in the manifesto:

  • Prioritise the maintenance and condition of road surfaces (spending slashed)
  • Oppose any attempts to charge Blue Badge holders for parking (charges introduced)
  • Maintain resources for adult education and leisure (spending slashed)
  • Support Council run residential homes (shut down)
  • Return a council-run Pest Control Service (see story here on the rat presented to Mark James)
A beacon of best practice

There is also a category of airy-fairy commitments which were not quite airy-fairy enough, such as:

  • Work closely with workplace representatives (Labour approved plans to remove important union rights in the workplace, and relations with the unions have never been at a lower ebb)
  • Support work to tackle violence and domestic abuse (support for groups such as Women's Aid has been slashed)
  • Become beacons of best practice in the workforce ("best practice" seems to mean zero hour and short-term contracts, use of sub-contractors paying less than the minimum wage, and dire pay and conditions for many others)
Yesterday Labour's big guns turned out in Ammanford to launch their 5-point pledge cards. Although that's far fewer pledges than Kevin Madge's manifesto, Carwyn Jones was unable to name three of them, and as we saw on the BBC News, other supporters and some candidates scored even lower.

That tells you something about how seriously the party takes its promises.


Anonymous said...

One of Labour's 'key commitments' in their 2012 manifesto was to "support keeping museums open in Carmarthenshire".
So how come does Labour now say that
they cannot consider financial help for Llanelli's Parc Howard museum and gardens, as they did in yesterday's Llanelli Rural Council meeting?

Redhead said...

It isn't that there is no money, just no money for US!