Thursday 14 May 2015

Changing the guard

A week ago people were trooping off to the polls in an election the outcome of which nobody predicted. Although it looked likely that Kevin Madge would be given the order of the boot in Carmarthenshire after the election, nobody would have put money on Plaid Cymru taking over leadership of the council in coalition with the Independents within the same week.

Both Labour and the Independents have been in power for far too long in County Hall, and the choice before Plaid was far from ideal. But politics in a democratic society is all about compromise, and Emlyn Dole has shown that he is not an exponent of tribal politics.

As Anon commenting on the previous post pointed out, Emlyn is his own man, and the Plaid group on the council has always guarded its independence. The idea that he had to seek permission from Leanne Wood or anybody else can safely be ruled out.

How much freedom of manoeuvre Plaid will have now that it is leading the council is another matter.

With the fate of the Liberal Democrats fresh in everybody's minds, Emlyn and his colleagues would do well to remember that being perceived, fairly or otherwise, to have compromised your principles too far can produce very harsh results at the ballot box.

A coalition with Labour would have been better for two reasons, but it is interesting to note Cllr Lenny's comment on the previous post. Labour broght nothing to the negotiation, it seems.

First, apart from Meryl Gravell and to a lesser extent Pam Palmer, the Independent benches are a talent-free zone, and Meryl and Pam are the sort of talent Carmarthenshire could do without. The Labour group does have some capable players who could have helped raise the level of the game, but that was not to be.

Second, there was much more likelihood that Plaid in coalition with Labour would have been in a position to deal with the problem of an over mighty chief executive.

The Independents have retained their five seats on the Executive Board, even though four would have been a better reflection of their actual numbers in the council. They clearly demanded and received a high price for their support, and keeping Mark James may well be part of the package. Time will tell.

In the longer term the best thing for local government in Carmarthenshire would be a heavy defeat at the polls for the Independents. Whether that would be more likely to happen with the Independents out of power is anybody's guess, but Carmarthenshire's Independents are in reality not much more than a vehicle for ensuring that Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer keep their hands on the levers of power. Without seats on the Executive Board and the patronage which goes with it, Pam and Meryl would have lost their raison d'ĂȘtre.

For Labour this is an opportunity to recharge the batteries and decide what sort of party they want to be. Let's hope for their sake that Plaid insists on rolling back the undemocratic and authoritarian changes to the constitution implemented by Labour in coalition with the Independents which make it so hard for any opposition to make its voice heard and hold the Executive to account.

We will find out in due course what the new coalition will look like and what its priorities are, but it will have to deal with huge spending cuts, and the likelihood that there is much worse to come.

That's the bad stuff, but what sort of things might we see from a Plaid-led council?

In no particular order, here is a shopping list.

  • Securing the earliest possible departure of Mark James without a massive pay-off.
  • Start actually building social housing rather than just talking about it.
  • Go for a big increase in the numbers of affordable homes being built and insist that developers stick to the quotas they sign up to as well as the terms of Section 106 agreements. If that means fewer housing developments for which there is no local need, so much the better.
  • Tackle the festering sore of planning. Fresh blood is needed, and action is needed to root out one or two rotten apples who are much too close to some of the developers.
  • Crucially, the council needs to restore the independence and integrity of the planning department and stop treating it like an arm of the executive to push through pet projects. 
  • The press office needs to be cut down to size, and the awful Carmarthenshire News scrapped, along with the 'Newsroom' which is not only p*** poor, but also a shocking waste of money.
  • Later this month, the council will finally publish the results of its review of the WLGA governance peer review. All the indications are that the result will be a very watered down version of the WLGA recommendations. This must not be the final word on making the council more open and accountable, and much more work needs to be done to encourage public questions and participation.
  • The council is notoriously averse to criticism and defensive. This has led to several serious failures to protect whistleblowers doing their civic duty to bring abuses to light. One way of doing this might be to create a whstleblowers' champion who reports not to the chief executive or other senior officers but to an independent lay member.
  • Just as with the WLGA recommendations, the council has been dragging its feet and watering down the recommendations made last year on the Welsh language. The council has a hugely important part to play here, and the policy must be pursued with new vigour. Start by making Cefin Campbell chair of the cross-party advisory panel and get to work on making Welsh the working language of successively more parts of the administration to create career opportunities for young Welsh speakers.
  • Insist that all new appointments have to be bilingual. The argument that you can only recruit the best if you import monoglot English speakers is nonsense - just look at what that policy has brought us.
  • There is growing evidence that the council's Modernising Education Programme has concentrated on bricks and mortar at the expense of what goes on in schools. Carmarthenshire has for some time performed significantly less well than most neighbouring authorities. This decline must be reversed.
  • And finally, the council has a key role to play in protecting employment rights. There is growing pressure on all councils to outsource social care, and all too often the result is substandard care and exploitation of low paid care workers. The council needs to establish effective monitoring to ensure that all of its "partners", in social care and other fields, sign up to and adhere to the council's own policies on pay, equality and the language.
That's quite a list, and some of these will take much longer than two years to implement.

Emlyn Dole is a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, and will certainly be a refreshing change from what has gone before. He made it clear in his interview with the BBC yesterday that he wants to make a difference, and he deserves to be given a chance.

Chwarae teg a phob lwc iddo fe. Fair play and good luck to him.


Anonymous said...

All very well to ask for bilingual staff but in areas of shortage eg social workers, foster carers, experienced managers they are not around, do you then leave vacancies forever?

Anonymous said...

The Nick Clegg moment?

Anonymous said...

I think Emlyn Dole is still a member of Plaid Cymru which has a constitution which directs the formation of County council coalitions under section 4 of its standing orders. Coalitions have to be approved by their National Executive and presumably its already been cleared.
At the conclusion of any negotiations, a written statement of the aims of the
arrangement (“the statement”), setting out any agreed policies, shall be presented to
the Local Government Area Committee for discussion, and, if agreed, to the National
Executive for final decision. Under no circumstances shall any agreement be entered
into without the explicit approval of the National Executive, and that approval shall
not be given in the absence of the statement. In the event of any disagreement
between the various bodies, the decision of the National Executive shall be final and

m1books said...

Agreed anon 18.56 Advertise for bilingual staff of course but now Carms really needs experience and ability in some of these top jobs. In any job the best candidate should always succeed. Have an in-house welsh tuition programme to support language skills as appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Planning departments of poorly resourced local authorities are often completely out-gunned by the high powered lawyers, valuers and planning consultants employed by avaricious developers when it comes to negotiating affordable housing and S106 contributions. Perhaps the savings from a much reduced spin department could be more usefully deployed in this direction, bringing in extra funding for much-needed services and infrastructure, as well as boosting the pitifully small number of affordable houses that the planning system has delivered so far.

Anonymous said...

Makes it less likely for Plaid to gain Llanelli assembly seat next year. Plaid lost by 21 votes the last time Plaid was in coalition with the Ind group. labour blamed Plaid for everything. History will repeat itself.
Deal with labour , maybe. Minority admin maybe. Shacking up with the same political carpetbaggers that stiched Plaid up last time- bad news. Hunanladdiad gwleidyddol

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@12.57 I get the feeling that the county council is not such a hot topic in Llanelli as it is in other parts of the county.

Interesting too that while Keith Davies is in favour of joining up with Swansea, Tegwen D and Co have firmly nailed their colours to the Carmarthenshire mast.

By the time of the Assembly election we will know which way the Welsh Govt is going to jump on this.

This will be an interesting factor in the election, with Labour currently pointing in both directions.

Anonymous said...

VERY worrying development in CCC politics...this really doesn't look like a good idea to me. It's the worst time to inherit Labour's mess, 2 yrs before the next Council Elections, 1 yr before Assembly elections.

The public might not be engaged with who has been making all these "difficult decisions" to date but as it gets closer to the Council Elections Plaid will come under the spot light increasingly and come under attack from Labour who will make sure they will be saddled with the whole rotten lot which wasn't their doing.

Much better to have allowed Labour and the Indies to finish off this Council term and have a fresh start in 2017. They will regret it or they may end up making no Council seat gains like they failed to make any last week in Parliament.

I don't care if they are the largest group, now is NOT the time to form shady coalitions just so they can assert their power in the short term...they've got to have the long game in their perspectives

Anonymous said...

Plaid were beaten by Labour by 80 votes not 21 as suggested above although it is a extremely marginal seat. The council is a very hot topic in Llanelli where Plaid for the last three years have exclusively blamed Labour for everything not mentioning the Independents at all. It will be interesting to see Plaid in the hot seat for once. For one I agree with Cneifiwr the best option would have been a Plaid/Labour opposition - there is a lot expertise on both sides.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@8.58 We have to remember that Labour increased its vote in Llanelli at the last council elections in 2012 despite being in coalition with the Independents. And some of the Labour councillors elected were as near as you can get to the proverbial dead donkey wearing a red rosette. If they were angry with the council, that was a strange way of showing it.

Perhaps things have changed.

Anonymous said...

Cneifiwr @ 10.36. Many people in Llanelli default to the Labour party- they are always looking for a reason not to vote for another party. The drip drip of 'bad news' against Plaid's running of the council is the excuse they need not to change their vote - although in their hearts they know Labour is bad for them. Plaid has never had the capacity to beat Labour on the news front in Llanelli. The welcome advent of the Herald will make things more difficult, Plaid will be associated with many Council problems not of their making. A 6 month 'honeymoon' will be OK but after that .... Plaid needs to finish the job of eating away at the Inds, but supporting them in government just gives the structure to survive and start eating away at Plaid in rural areas.