Thursday 10 May 2012

Election Fatigue

Well the elections are all over and despite People First candidates polling well in most of the wards that we put candidates up in, the stark reality is that we got squeezed between a strong Plaid Cymru showing and a mini Labour revival.

Out of our existing councillors Sian Caiach retained her Carmarthenshire County Council and Llanelli Rural Council seats for Hengoed, but co-founder Arthur Davies lost his county council seat in Carmarthen West.

While Sian returns to county hall soon, Arthur is now going to devote himself to building up the People First movement as well as undertaking community projects.

Elsewhere there were some strong first time performances, particularly in the community council ballots, with Huw Gilasbey being elected as a People First councillor on Kidwelly Town Council.

Over all not the success we were hoping for, but some very good first time election performances by People First candidates.

The full county council results can be found here and the community council results can be found here.

So what for the next 5 years? 

It is pretty clear that either Labour or Plaid will have to form a coalition with the “Independents” to form an administration. (Strangely neither has been in touch with us at People First!).

If it is Plaid then Peter Hughes Griffiths will have the chance to prove that the manifesto pledges of restoring democracy to Carmarthenshire County Council and cutting the waste of things like Carmarthenshire News were not just hollow promises. Will he be stronger in power than he was in opposition and stand up to the Chief Executive?

If it is Labour then they will need to change their leader or the Chief Executive will continue to run the show and nothing will improve. There are some strong characters within the labour ranks that could really swing the balance back in favour of the elected representatives, but will Labour be brave enough to appoint them?

Of course the so-called “Independents” will demand Executive Board positions as part of any deal and that is where the danger really lies. Many have shown that they are career politicians desperate for the “rewards” that membership of the Executive Board brings. Who will they represent once they are there?

Whoever merges with the “Independents” it is unlikely that Plaid or Labour will allow them to retain Meryl Gravell as their leader, as the credibility of the new administration would be destroyed before it began. It’s going to be a long 5 years for those that have been used to getting their own way.

If there are any councillors out there who are already feeling frustrated with party politics, you are welcome to join us in People First!

Friday 27 April 2012

Affect of cuts and redundancy in local government

People First candidate Dennis Warwick who is standing in the Trimsaran ward against the Leader of the "Independent" group Meryl Gravelle has produced a further document detailing the direct and indirect impacts of cuts on the Carmarthenshire Economy after redundancies in the public workforce.

Friday 20 April 2012

The cost of senior council officers to the tax payer

People First candidate Dennis Warwick is standing in the Trimsaran ward against the Leader of the "Independent" group Meryl Gravelle. Last year, while working for Unison, Dennis sent out a leaflet called "Senior Staffing Costs"  (link below) to all 4500 Unison members in the county. 

All figures are estimated and based on information gleaned from the Authority. The county council complained about the leaflet, but failed to provide any figures of their own. 

The amount that WE as tax payers pay out to reward these senior managers is staggering and it has to stop. 

For example, the figures shown for the Chief Executive reveal that he costs the tax payer in salary and "on costs" a hefty £4423 per week!

(Note: The "on costs" referred to in the leaflet include costs on top of salary such as NI contributions and pension payments).

Sunday 8 April 2012

How independent is "Independent"?

It's been said before, but it's worth saying again in the run-up to the local council elections, that some of the dictionary definitions of independent are:

"not affiliated or merged with a larger organisation";

"thinking or acting for oneself";

"not dependent or relying on others"  and, most tellingly -

"a politician or other who commits himself to no party".

What, then, are we to make of people who band together in order to form an "Independent" group in the local council?  How can they be truly independent at the same time as being part of a group which votes in the same way and apparently has the same views on all topics?

Is the title "independent" - as is often assumed - a pseudonym for Tory?  And, if so, why don't they have the courage to nail their colours to the Tory mast?  Or, on the other hand, does this group of people range from somewhere on the left of Marx to the right of the BNP?  How is the voter to know?

By law, traders have to describe accurately the products they are selling otherwise they contravene the Trade Descriptions Act.  I suggest that those councillors who make up the independent group and who are selling themselves to the voters should similarly have to state clearly and unequivocally what they understand by the description "independent" and what principles they stand for.  All candidates who call themselves independent should declare that they will not be willing just to do as they are told and follow the leader, otherwise they risk misleading the public by giving themselves that title and, if there was such a thing as a Councillors' Description Act, they might be in danger of falling foul of it.

People First candidates - even though they are campaigning under one banner - will be truly independent because they will not have to vote according to a party whip.  They will have the freedom to vote as they think fit;  they will be able to follow their consciences in all matters.  No-one will be able to tell them  how to vote on any subject that is raised in council.

People First councillors will be another dictionary definition of independent - "completely self-governing".  That is as it should be. 

Lesley Williams

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Open letter - Stand up for Prince Philip Hospital

It is with great disappointment that I read AM Simon Thomas' claim that our previous Plaid AM encouraged investment at our hospital and, by implication, no cuts. This type of declaration is misleading; despite the fact that since 1999 the unit has had some significant investment, little of this was into core acute services, which have been left to deteriorate.

Famously Helen Mary Jones pledged that acute surgery would only be lost "over her dead body". It transferred to Carmarthen, and Helen is not dead, but no longer with us as an AM.

Over the years since our first merger in 1999 there has been a steady asset stripping from the hospital, with the loss of many staff and many services transferred elsewhere or downgraded. Consultants who have tried to preserve their services such as Hugh Evans and Carol Thomas have been treated shamefully and forced out of their jobs. What few services have been grudgingly expanded in no way compensate for the loss of much of our emergency first aid for illness and accident.

Both of Llanelli's major political parties have failed to deliver on hospital care, despite their local members constant assurances that they are 100% behind the long campaign to keep our services.
While funds are casually expended on other health board projects in distant hospitals, the medical services required for the health and well-being of Llanelli people are allowed to wither quietly, in the hopes that voters will neither notice nor care.

Plaid and Labour want your votes and believe that you will vote for them however poor the standard of healthcare they have delivered and this kind of careless disrespect for the people should not be rewarded or tolerated.

We must all stand together on this issue of retaining the services in our hospital. It is pointless to sit and argue over which party has blundered more completely: The people of Llanelli have been let down across the board by almost every one of them at this point.

If we are complacent, if we show our politicians that they can make the same bad decisions, the same broken promises and allow services to be removed with no repercussions then they will do so. If they can be voted in time and again regardless of how poorly they treat the people they should be serving, why should they bother to make any real effort to change now?

There are no saviours waiting somewhere else to help us. It is not enough to grumble and be cynical and accept that politicians will always let us down with empty promises and poor excuses. We deserve decent healthcare and the respect of the Hywel Dda board, not to be treated like fretting children who just don't understand that the sweets belong to someone else.

Hywel Dda Health Board and its predecessors have stripped the heart from our hospital and now expect us to go west to make up the numbers in Carmarthen and Withybush where their departments need more patients to justify their own existence. This is crazy when we have the Swansea hospitals, with better access and often better quality departments close at hand. 

Before coming to work in Llanelli I worked in 2 areas with large rural populations in the North of Scotland and Northumberland. I have never seen such a dogs dinner of health services that we have ended up with in the Hywel Dda area.

Forget the political point scoring, we need to all stand together and say NO! The people of Llanelli have had enough!

Dr Sian Caiach
Retired Orthopaedic Surgeon

On 28th March 2012 more than 600 people attended a silent protest at the removal of services from Prince Philip Hospital. 

Pictured above are three of the People First candidates that joined the protest that day: Steve Bowen (centre of picture), Dr Sian Caiach, and Clem Thomas (in hat). 

Steve Bowen also gave an interview to camera that can be seen here on the SOSPPAN (Save our Services Prince Philip Action Network) website.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Arthur Davies's thirteen years experience as a county councillor without alliance to any group has given him special insight into the workings of Carmarthenshire County Council.  His thoughts are set out here:


Why are the public losing faith in politics and politicians?  Why is more and more money being extracted from council taxpayers while vital services are cut?  The reason is simple.  Our current system is unrepresentative and has led to a council that is run and controlled by officers rather than by elected representatives.

The 'backbone' of this council is the Independent Group that always forms an alliance with one of the other political parties in order to maintain the status quo.  But the definition of independent is thinking or acting for oneself and not affiliated or merged with a larger organisation.  Why then, do so-called independent councillors join together to act as a group?  This certainly doesn't seem like people who are thinking or acting independently. These alliances, with their superior numbers, inevitably out-vote any opposition - and democracy is the victim - resulting in officers' recommendations always being given the stamp of approval by full council. People First group tried to re-establish real debate but was prevented by a change of council rules which stopped them raising important issues for discussion in full council.

What is urgently required is real change and real independent candidates not 'closet Tories'.  There is a desperate need to re-introduce proper accountability for using taxpayers' money wisely.

People First is different in that they are a group of individuals without whips, rules or regulations;  driven only by principles.  Their candidates will always put people and local communities first and will abide by the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by Lord Nolan in 1995:  selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadershipThey recently campaigned unsuccessfully for the recording of council meetings to demonstrate transparency;  for the electorate to see exactly how their representatives are performing.

Voting for an "Independent" or Political Party candidate will inevitably re-elect an officer-led council prioritising self or party interest above that of the public.  People First councillors, however, will listen to people's views, their concerns, their needs, their complaints and their suggestions.  They will fight to represent the people honestly without alliance to any particular party or group.

Your vote is important and can make a difference for change.  MAKE YOUR VOTE COUNT by voting for councillors who will represent you - and only you.  Vote for a new future that will return democracy and integrity to Carmarthenshire County Council. 

Wednesday 22 February 2012

People First / Gwerin Gyntaf - a better way to deliver democracy by Arianwen Caiach-Taylor

Nowadays, the political landscape is a dangerous place to be, both as a participant and for the concerned bystander. Relatively prosperous times have bred a climate of stuffy ambivalence, and taking up the cross of government has become just another career with petty power struggles and selfish ambition the watchwords. The responsibility towards the public has become an irritating burden, and the voters and taxpayers are seen as an annoying obstacle to be overcome instead of actual living people with very real problems and concerns.

For some, this situation has become intolerable. Veteran councillors Sian Caiach and Arthur Davies, having become disillusioned by the unsympathetic attitude of many of their fellow councillors, would like to propose an alternative to squabbling parties and unhelpful Independents. Both councillors know that the voters should be the first priority, not party or dogma, not money or power.

Sian and Arthur stand as Independents but have adopted strict principles, written by former independent MP Martin Bell. These principles ensure that representatives pledge to act on behalf of their voters, stay independent of any group or party and decide on each issue on its merits, relying on their common sense, their knowledge of their voters' needs and local consultation on major issues.

Political Parties have grown distant from the people. Instead of the people coming first, big business, outside interests, party loyalty or even the banks are given priority, as we have found to our cost. The old system has bankrupted the nation and we are now forced to pay the price.

People First/Gwerin Gyntaf is a new way of delivering democracy. A template for a new, honest politics, a system for sticking up for local communities and their services and safety. We aim to provide excellent representation for local voters. We have already begun to make an impact locally in seeking out and delivering the public opinion, and as a pressure group in the council. If you would like to support us or if you simply feel your voice is not being heard, please contact us at or Parc Farm, Trimsaran Road, Cwmbach, Carms. SA15 4RD.

People-Power Can Prevail by Lesley Williams

“There’s no point”.

“Once they’ve decided what they want, there’s nothing anyone can do”.

“We can’t change anything”.

How many times do we hear these comments and sentiments like them when the Powers-That-Be come up with some new scheme or proposal which the ordinary man and woman in the street thinks – indeed, knows – is not what the community wants, won’t work or is downright wrong and maybe damaging?

But in actual fact, we CAN be a force for change if enough people join together and are determined enough. That was borne out by the campaign to keep St Catherine Street open when people came together in mass protest against the ludicrous plan to close the street to traffic during trading hours.

A few of us called a public meeting to propose that a referendum be held in order to see whether Carmarthen’s residents wanted the closure or not.  Hundreds of people came to the meeting in St Peter’s Hall because nearly everyone in the town realised that closing the street was the most stupid and unworkable part of the mart redevelopment plan.  A referendum was unanimously called for by the people at the meeting but Carmarthenshire County Council refused to allow it. 

A “No to Closure/Na I Gau” poster and leaflet campaign followed with many of us tramping the streets of Carmarthen in order to ask every resident to display one of these posters in their windows or in their cars.  The support was overwhelming and we had to keep having the posters re-printed – thanks to many local traders who helped fund this. The Carmarthen Journal under editor Robert Lloyd, also ran many articles about the campaign.  Rather different to the tone of the Journal these days!

At this point, one extremely courageous woman, Gabrielle Sheppard, decided to call for a Judicial Review of the refusal to allow a referendum and took the council to court.  If she had lost this case, it would have meant selling her only asset – the roof over her head – in order to pay the council’s legal costs (which we, the council taxpayers, were paying anyway).

But, she won her case.  The Judge in the Court in Cardiff decreed that the case should be looked at again and a decision about whether a referendum could be held should be made by a High Court judge – it was obvious that the council was on sticky ground for refusing.

Another public meeting was called and even more people turned up for this one – standing room only in St Peter’s Hall.  (Has this ever happened before?)  It was at this point that the council capitulated – they could obviously see the writing on the wall and that they were going to lose the case. 

St Catherine Street would remain open.  The people had won.

The moral of this story is that people-power can prevail if we are strong enough and united enough in our determination to change things that we don’t like.  Never say, “there’s no point” – there’s ALWAYS a point!

A Leader or a Figure-head?

What should have been a wonderful day celebrating 15 years of Choose Life in Llanelli with Alan Andrews and his staff was spoilt by the extraordinary remarks made by Councillor Meryl Gravell.

After congratulating Alan and his staff for the years of working tirelessly to help people with their addictions, Mrs Gravell then went on to insult some of the demonstrators who were protesting outside about the proposed closure of the A&E department in Prince Philip Hospital. She quite clearly called them “rabble” but did not specify which demonstrators were the “rabble”.

She followed this by stating “Mark and I have 9000 employees (sic) and if they only worked as hard and as enthusiastically as Alan then we would have no trouble in the Council.”

We were astounded that a council leader could speak in such a disparaging manner, especially after some of our hard-working council employees have been forced to take salary cuts.

In our opinion Mrs Gravell’s scathing, unscripted, remarks about some of the protestors and about council staff were insensitive and unprofessional. Her subsequent response to councillors and to the press that her remarks have been taken out of context is misleading - as the video evidence proves.

Is this why the council is so reluctant to have their meetings filmed? The value of such recording is borne out by the YouTube clip showing the council leader’s true character – and her true remarks. It would appear that without a script and without the guidance of officers, Mrs Gravell is not competent enough to make a simple speech without alienating and enraging the public and council workers.

The council needs a real leader who enables and encourages councillors to work as a team to serve the people of Carmarthenshire; not someone who maintains the status quo of an officer-led council where councillors are merely required to rubber-stamp officers’ recommendations.

The People First Group will continue to campaign for recording council meetings and do not accept Mrs Gravell’s insincere apology. She should resign.