Thursday, 21 May 2015

The House of Cards Wrexham style!

We have previously written here and here about Wrexham Council's Tory/Independent coalition's move to grab more power...and money by gerrymandering the constitution on the back of unseen legal advice.

Last night, Wednesday the 20th May 2015, the report outlining the reasons for subverting democracy was presented to the Full Council. It was a long and 'fiery' debate with the administration's plans the subject of withering attack from Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat and Labour Councillors.

This is what I had to say on the matter:

My fundamental objection to changing the method of governance of this council is that it is unnecessary. The claim is that we are not compliant with the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011, in fact the Wales Audit Office confirm that a political balanced ExecutiveBoard is in fact compliant. What is not compliant is the way thecouncil allocated the Chairs of Audit and Democratic ServicesCommittees back in September last year; I will say no more about that at this point as that is the subject of an internal audit complaint 
The second point I wish to make is that the constitutional change is based on counsel’s legal advice that in fact few of us have seen. How can we be expected to vote on something we have not seen? Therefusal to release this report again raises the point of for whosebenefit was this legal advice? The offer of a release of ‘relevantparts’ with conditions is not acceptable and we need to see thewhole advice to understand the whole context of the advice especially what Counsel was asked to advise on! Has anyone seenthe question posed to counsel? 
The third point I wish to make is the short time frame in which toconsult; this is a complex area and this change to the constitution should have been brought to the recent workshop on theConstitution. We can only draw our own conclusions at to why itwas not. 
The fourth point I wish to make is around what I call the ‘powergrab’. Any change from a politically balance Executive Board of 10 to a partisan coalition of 10 is nothing more than securing their ownpower base and diminishing the influence of the opposition especially as the coalition also retains 5 Chairs of Committees. In fact33 Coalition members will share 15 posts that pay a Senior Salary a 2:1 ratio whilst 19 members of the opposition will share 3 or 4 poststhat pay a senior salary, 1:5 ratio. 
Finally we have the costs involved and as you have quoted yourselves the additional cost of this constitutional change in seniorsalaries is £63,000 per annum. So what we have in this age ofausterity is council employees doing more for less and Councillorsdoing less for more. The public perception will be that were not all in this together.

The three opposition groups moved a series of amendments most of which were defeated by 29 - 14, including one NOT to pay a senior salary to the 3 extra cabinet lead members.

The main proposal to change the constitution was passed 29 - 17, with Plaid Cymru, Labour and Lib Dem Councillors voting against. The vote was recorded so we can all see who voted for more of the gravy train.

The whole debacle received extensive coverage from our hyperlocal website here and here , but we can only speculate as to why our local regional MSM printed papers 'played this whole issue down.'

Labour minister recycles old news

The Labour Government in Cardiff seems very keen on recycling – in particular recycling old news.

On Monday, Wrecsam AM Lesley Griffiths, the Communities minister, made a “significant” announcement. It was to say that £108 million was being allocated to improve social housing in Wales through the Major Repairs Allowance (MRA).

It would have been a more significant event had she not announced the MRA was £108m. Because ever since 2004, the MRA has been stuck on £108m and every year a housing minister has trumpeted this budget line.

If it had kept pace with inflation, it would now be worth £152m. Perhaps that’s the significance.

Carry on recycling!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Labour hypocrites on the picket line

Just before the May 7th elections, staff at Further Education colleges held protests outside various institutions against drastic cuts to adult education being imposed by the Labour Government in Cardiff.
 In the case of Coleg Llandrillo it was 8.8% with a 50% cut in the provision for those aged over 24 years. So much for providing the skills for future employment that so many people need and the government's ministers relentlessly trumpet.
 As candidate for Clwyd West, I joined the protest at Coleg Llandrillo in Rhos-on-Sea, along with fellow trade unionists from Unite, Unison and the lecturers' union UCU. I was also joined by Plaid Cymru's local Rhos-on-Sea councillor Phil Edwards (pictured at the centre). But imagine my surprise to see Labour candidates Gareth Thomas (Clwyd West) and Mary Wimbury (Aberconwy) join the protest - presumably in protest at their own party's policy of cutting funding for further education.
 Surely it wasn't just a cynical vote-catching exercise?!


Changes to Wrexham Council’s constitution are “subverting democracy” and will mean an extra £63,000 a year for senior councillors, says Plaid Cymru’s group leader Arfon Jones.

Plaid Cymru Councillor Arfon Jones, of Gwersyllt West, is also concerned that legal advice backing the changes have not been shared with councillors. As a result, he has been forced to utilise the Freedom of Information Act to ask for a copy of the legal advice that Wrexham Council has obtained to support a change in its constitution. The change will concentrate power in the ruling Independent-Tory coalition and mean an increased spend on Senior Salaries for councillors.

Cllr Jones said: 
"I have asked Wrexham Council to provide a copy of the legal advice on which this change of constitution is justified. They initially refused, then they offered bits and pieces of the advice in confidence which I feel is insufficient. As a result, I have made a request under the Freedom of Information Act. It is essential that changes to the constitution, which will increase one group's political influence  and diminishes other groups’ influence, is subject of full scrutiny and consultation. How can we make decisions on incomplete information? The report on Wednesday flies in the face of the concept of openness and transparency and should be deferred until we have all the information to hand."

Cllr Jones has also sent a Freedom of Information request to the Wales Audit Office as they are blamed by the Council for demanding this change in the Constitution. Cllr Jones said: 
"I was told that the Wales Audit Office had told Wrexham Council to change the Constitution as it was non-compliant with the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011. I asked for copies of letters from the Audit Office and was told there were none and that the advice was verbal between an auditor and a senior officer. I find it hard to accept that a significant change would be made on the back of a verbal conversation. " "The Plaid Cymru group believe that the changes to the Constitution are political so as to strengthen the power of the ruling coalition and they are looking for reasons to justify the change. Whoever has come up with this has been watching too much House of Cards rather than getting on with the job of making Wrexham a better place to live and work. It’s a crass attempt at subverting democracy."

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Money and Power Grab at Wrexham Council.

At next weeks's Council meeting members of the Wrexham Council's ruling coalition will seek to consolidate their power base by changing the constitution to benefit their administration by going from a 'politically balanced' Executive Board to a Cabinet system where the coalition take up all 10 cabinet positions compared to a 7 - 3 split previously.

Plaid Cymru opposes these changes and have issued the following statement:


New constitution will mean more money for ruling group councillors 

Council leaders have been accused of a “money grab” after it emerged that they will receive pay rises of £63,000 a year under plans to re-organise Wrexham council’s constitution. Plaid Cymru councillors on the council say the Independent-Tory coalition that runs the council is changing the rules to grab more power and money by taking all the seats on the ruling executive board rather than ensuring it’s politically balanced.

Plaid Cymru accusing them of “gerrymandering the constitution” to their own benefit. 

Councillor Arfon Jones, who leads the Plaid Cymru group on Wrexham council, said:

“Wrexham Council claim that they have to do this. But the current politically balanced is perfectly lawful and has worked well for the past decade. What is morally wrong is the way they the council have allocated the chairs of the various committees in a way that favours the ruling group and reduces the opportunity for opposition councillors to scrutinise and challenge decisions. 

"That’s bad enough but this change will also give the 33-strong ruling coalition 15 senior salaries - or one for every two Councillors. The remaining 19 opposition members will get 3 or 4 senior salaries.  This would mean an additional cost of £63,000 per annum, which is unjustified when council employees are doing more with less and councillors are doing less for more, 

“It’s not surprising that politicians in general are seen as greedy and self-serving when they spend so much time concocting a grubby little deal to get themselves more money rather than concentrate on the real issues in hand – delivering good services and protecting jobs. This report should be seen for what it is-  a 'money grab' and a 'power grab'. The losers in all this are Wrexham taxpayers who will see more decisions being agreed behind closed doors and going through on the nod with little or no scrutiny. For that privilege they will have to pay more. Every right and fair minded individual should oppose this.”