Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Carmarthenshire Senior Councillors - Are they worth it?

How much are our Carmarthenshire Senior Councillors worth? Well, according to them, a lot. They are, the Executive Board say, at the same level of responsibility as MP's and AM's and imply they should be paid accordingly, presumably in the region of 50-60k . So they rejected the recommendation on pay from Welsh Government, a document limiting the number of the highest paid Councillors and their salaries which suggested a modest pay cut..
The Councils's Executive is claiming that the Independent Remuneration Panel Wales was not Independent at all as they had received a letter from a WAG minister in 2015 and should therefore be ignored..

Spot the talent!

Looking at this letter, actually in an addendum attached to the report, it seems rather vague and simply reminds the panel of the general financial situation .Correspondence with the IRPW I've had since we Councillors were assured they were clearly a dodgy outfit, not surprisingly confirms that IRPW believes itself to be independent., Also that letters from ministers are routine, not an exceptional event as we were told in full council. Carmarthenshire Councillors supported the executive and voted to keep their current pay levels.If the IRPW advice was taken, a number of the executive board Councillors would be reduced to 23,000. The County Council have decided to resist this change and the status quo remains. Salaries before tax, NI and pension deductions are listed at the end of this article.

Other expenses are also usually larger for the better paid who tend to travel more, may need a personal car and driver, and attend events at Council Expense

What are the qualifications for the top jobs such as, Exec board, planning committee etc?. The civic appointments are in the gift of the Parties who take turn to nominate a trusted and loyal member as deputy chair who then becomes chair the following year. There is never a proper election for the posts. The other appointments are mysterious and usually seem to require little more than a great affection for the status quo and a willingness to grovel to the political

Over the years I've seen plenty of people from all parties here trapped in the web lured by pathetic privileges, titles and, of course, extra money, usually actually encouraged and appointed by their own parties. They present themselves as naive with good intentions at first, but soon learn the talents of spin and end up sounding like they are reading off a script issued by someone else, and one suspects they may have indeed given up the troublesome habit of speaking for themselves. Once you get used to extra money its hard to give it up and you may do questionable things just to keep in the club.
Other Councillors are rated as harmless,backbench,cannon fodder and generally ignored and the few troublemakers like me just generally harassed,dismissed as lunatics and eccentrics and occasionally bear the brunt of some unpleasant disincentives in the hope that we will go away eventually and leave the poor council to function without any serious criticism.

The CEO I'm told, apparently arranges the political coalition deals and may even suggest to groups who their leaders should be. This may be true or just another well learnt recitation to absolve Senior Councillors from blame for their more dubious actions. Its said that the corruptible may be attracted to power,my theory is that they are actively recruited here by those who can pick the most greedy and suggestible out of the pack and exploit them to the hilt. When Labour changed their leader to someone with a few principles they were out of power in no time and Plaid put in.
Are they worth it? Should they fret that they are not getting enough? Most of them are getting another income as well, either from other employment or retirement pensions, reflecting their tendency to be middle aged or elderly. Large salaries aresupposed to attract young people as councillors but at least here few younger councillors get any promotion at all to the big bucks.

We are now instructed to produce annual reports, given a template which can be filled in for us listing our committees, outside appointments and attendance in council. Are these the important things when the Council is run by a small clique, scrutiny committees do very little real scrutiny and most ordinary Councillors make very little contribution to policy or action other than supporting political group policy.? I wonder if a list of major council policy decisions in our reports together with which way we voted would give a better insight. On the other hand how many people will actually check their Councillor's annual report online?

Current salaries, for the record, are therefore just as last year's:-

Leader 48,000
Deputy leaders [2] 31,250
Other executive Councillors [7] 29,000
Chairs of committees [7] 22,000
Leader of the opposition [1] 22,000
Civic Chair of Council [1] 21,500
Deputy Civic Chair [1] 16,000
Ordinary Councillors [54 ]13,300

The pay recommendations would have led to some executive board members dropping a few thousand pounds from their salaries, Fat chance!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

How we did on the Mid and West list

Having now dug up the figures I can report that we took 1,496 votes on the list, mainly in Llanelli and the rest of Carmarthenshire which is unsurprising as we couldn't afford leaflets for the whole area but did cover most of Carmarthenshire. Our total vote in the whole mid and west area - Dyfed, Powys and South Gwynedd came to 0.7 % , as we'd never stood before, a technical 0.7% gain.
As our next project is to get County Councillors elected next year I hope all these new voters will remember us fondly. Here is the List Team:-

 As we couldn't all be in one place at the same time due to work, illness  and family commitments we did these publicity photo's separately. Above, is myself with Wayne Erasmus and Cllr Marie Binney at Park Howard, below with our other list candidates Stephen Bowen and Clem Thomas in Dafen,Llanelli.

Many thanks not only to all our supporters and those who voted for us but also to the many people who received us graciously on the doorstep and in hustings. Apart from the mysterious disappearance of field posters there were no nasty incidents and well done to all the parties for their good natured and mature campaigns.

  Siân Caiach, 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Elections-minority opinion

Elections are always interesting and sometimes surprising to me but them I've been interested in politics since my teens. The truth is that a great number of people don't vote and aren't that interested.They don't see elections as relevant to their lives. In many cases they are probably right.

In Llanelli the"final" results were:

Labour             10,416
Plaid                   9,883
UKIP                  4,233
Conservative      1.886
People First        1,112
Greens                  427
Lib Dems              355

We had 3 recounts, all of which had different results but all favoured Labour. In the third recount 100 votes not belonging to UKIP were found in the UKIP bundles, 50 for Plaid and 50 for Labour, I believe. The returning officer argued that as Plaid were still behind we should stop now and Plaid agreed.I was left thinking of exactly how accurate are the results are everywhere else? After all if they are not close, they are never checked.

As we had only 4% of the total votes cast, we lost our deposit along with the LibDems and the Greens. I don't yet have the regional list results as my duties on the school run meant I couldn't wait until 9.30 am for those results. I'll post them later.

 However, if the number of postal leaflet drops are anything to go by Labour, Plaid and the Conservatives spent at least 20 times what we did in Llanelli, just on leaflets, and we certainly spent nothing on busing in support and celebrity visits. Plaid Cymru must have spent a bit on their Spring Conference in Llanelli as well, which of course is not strictly an election expense. Many thanks to all who contributed to our campaign with time, money and good wishes.

However, for us the publicity has provided new helpers,new members and more local people's problems we can try to address. We have barely time to take breath before our next election - a Comuunity Council  By election in Hendy Carmarthenshire on May 19th,  prompted by a resignation of a current member in the face of the Llanedi Council's financial difficulties. Our candidate there is local resident and campaigner Wayne Erasmus.

 Siân Caiach 

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Who we are - People First

People First were formed by the chronically disgruntled. Some of us who had been in political parties and were fed up with them, others had been on the hard end of unfair treatment in one way or another by public services or some level of government.

We looked for a way of breaking the system, to free our lives from unjust systems and the rule of big money and biased bureaucracy. We wanted a fairer and better society and for that Wales needs  improved and more accessible government at every level.

We found the Bell Principles, the rules of exemplary conduct formulated by the Independent MP Martin Bell. These rules, if adhered too, effectively produce better representation, much more contact with the public, and extreme openness and transparency. Rare features in current political life. The Bell Principles in full are available on this website.

It was a scandal which brought Martin Bell into politics He had been a famous BBC War Correspondent and became known as "the man in the white suit." In 1997 an MP had became embroiled in sleaze allegations in the parliamentary "cash for questions" scandal. The MP for Tatton, Neil Hamilton, one of the safest Conservative seats of the day, was accused of taking money to ask questions in Parliament, The money came from Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods and the story was run by the Guardian Newspaper.

A parliamentary investigation was underway and Neil stood in the election for the Tatton seat. Martin Bell stood as an independent against Mr Hamilton and the Labour and Liberal Candidates withdrew.
Martin Bell won and when the Enquiry reported Mr Hamilton was found guilty of receiving £25,000 from Mr Al Fayed and £10,000 from tobacco lobbyist Ian Greer. He also failed  to declare generous free trips. Al Fayed later claimed that the total paid to Hamilton was over 100,000  Neil has always maintained his innocence.

Subsequent expensive libel actions led Mr Hamilton eventually to bankruptcy, recovery and a new career as a TV personality. He has since joined UKIP  and is now a local candidate for Carmarthen East and top of the UKIP Mid and West List. He has an excellent chance of becoming a local regional Assembly Member.
Mr Hamilton

A few days ago I met him and his lovely wife Christine. I introduced myself and said we would meet again at the count. He asked who I was standing for and I said People First. He asked who we were.
I told him we were a local party embracing democratic reform, fighting corruption and following Martin Bell's principles. He replied that in his experience Martin Bell had not had principles.

I suppose we in People First have to thank Mr Hamilton. If Martin Bell had not been so disgusted by the cash for questions scandal and become an MP he would never have written his principles, doubtless derived not only from his personal experience of representing his voters but also by his appreciation of  the abuse of power which brought him into politics. Martin Bell nowadays works as an ambassador for UNICEF. We are very grateful for the strict guidelines and hope they'll catch on with all the other politicians eventually

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

On the streets - undoing the damage in Llanelli

Its the politics season and the Assembly and Police commissioner elections are on May 5th and the European referendum on June

I ask at the doorstep "what is the one thing you would most like changed in Llanelli?". I wish I had a fiver for every time the answer has been "everything". However, more targeted questioning shows that the sorry state of the town centre is still the big issue. After our County Council throwing millions at demolishing part of the town centre then paying a developer to build new shiny buildings on land given to them for nothing, the whole lot got sold off to a Stock Market Property Fund.
The lack of parking in the town has lead to business and shoppers  leaching away to out of town retail where parking is free and easily accessed. Another example of how public money funding doesn't always make things better.

The policies and promises of political parties at all levels of government are to be treated with caution. Those promising large regeneration projects, big improvements in health and public services and  massive economic growth should be treated with extreme skepticism.

 We are in a mess in Wales. Not all of it is due to the Assembly Government specifically. Devolution is generally a good idea,, but  for Wales there was no severance package to compensate the country for decades of under funding. The Welsh Labour Government has not apparently performed well but as the Welsh Labour A team has always played away in Westminster, it may have been more to do with the priorities of a UK Party rather than malicious neglect.

We are where we are. It is no wonder that the quality of  both sitting members and candidates sometimes fall well below our hopes and dreams.  There has been little accountability. I sometimes wonder if the people who live and work in Wales are so used to incompetence and questionable decisions that they actually accept poor leadership. They may even fear that the "other lot" they are tempted to vote for are likely to be even worse.

In People First - Gwerin Gyntaf we believe that it is the quality of voter representation which is the cause of much of our problems. The party systems distort the true needs of our people because there is no need to consult or explain your actions except at one brief election where a candidate gets a mandate to do what they will for 5 years with little chance of being unseated for the whole period.

We promise is to actually consult before decisions and be accountable for what we do, We do not agree to blindly support each other or form coalitions with other parties. Different electoral areas have different needs and wants and the "one size fits all" political attitude is outdated and sometimes clearly destructive. {more detail on Martin Bell's  Principles, which we all espouse can be found elsewhere on this website or via all good search engines}

If Carmarthenshire Council had actually consulted the people and traders of Llanelli before planning the new town centre, it could have been a different story. Instead we have simply got ourselves an ugly new office building with a hotel on top which the Council has to rent for years to come, a rented cinema and a new, EU funded Theatre wich the Coluncil owns but we probably can't afford to run  in the future.  This random collection appeared when officers of the council were told that retail no longer paid and leisure was the "new thing" for prosperous development. The changes have threatened the commercial viability of the rest of the town centre and the owners have insisted on letting almost exclusively to national pub and restaurant chains rather than local hospitality firms or traders.

In the business case for our new town centre,nice people from prosperous eastern suburbs of Swansea would visit our out of town retail developments and then pop along to our Leisure Quarter, happily taking in a play or film and then dropping into Nando's for a meal before driving back to Swansea. Enthralled by the experience they would then plan to return and explore the delights of the rest of the town centre and then develop the habit of regularly spending money in Llanelli.

I believe I was the only Councillor who brought up the idea that this was not a business case at all My own experience of using out of town retail centres across the UK was that after shopping, people tend to leave promptly and go home, especially if it's food shopping and the ice cream may melt otherwise. Some big retail centres do have their own cinema's and restaurants but the temptation to go a few miles further away from home after shopping into a town {where you may not be able to easily park} to enjoy a Theatre and Cinema offering the same sort of entertainment which is more varied and plentiful in your own fair city is probably unlikely. Carmarthenshire Councillors spent millions of public money trying to make this fantasy reality and in the end successfully financed the project of our town centre becoming a private holding in a property investment fund. Something omitted from the business case.

Democracy is not perfect and never will be. I'm convinced though, that it can be a lot better. People First /Gwerin gyntaf is not just  a brand  but a sincere promise to deliver a different sort of representative who will actually represent the voters interests rather than a party or even just themselves.
How can we undo the damage caused by the County Council? We don't have 20 million pounds to buy back the asset we gave away for nothing. The new owners owe their loyalty to their investors but they may co operate if changes are suggested which increase their rents and footfall.

The Eastgate units have  never been fully let..Attempts to tart up the old town centre adjacent to the new part have not so far been effective, rearranging the paving and awnings rather than deckchairs. We need the real local experts - local people , businesses  and shopkeepers to lead a proper regeneration with proper independent advice, not the usual cronies, on what we can do with the resources we have. I love this town, its my home and it breaks my heart that ignorance and greed have destroyed the heart of it with the complicity of most of the Councillors the townspeople elected to represent their interests.  .

 Siân Caiach