Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Cage Bars are made of Plasticine

Western democracies have not turned out quite as their founders imagined. None were expected to be bound by universal adult suffrage. In each region and nation where they developed the various assemblies and parliaments were formed by the social elites of the time.  Structures were expanded by demands for extending the vote and increasing the powers. The old aristocratic orders declined but money still ruled. Politicians and votes could still be bought, although the mechanisms were more subtle.Governments became deeply influenced by multinational, financially dominant organisations. Conflicts engineered not to preserve the lives and livelihoods of local populations, but for economic and political strategy. Not only the old fashioned military type of conflict still plague these mature democracies but also equally immoral campaigns against individual interest groups,economic, currency and geopolitical targets.

Are we ordinary people helpless in the face of all this? Our governments can't even balance their own books but ask for endless "austerity", generally a term describing taking as much as possible away from the poorest in society, the easy targets. Benefits reform is removing income from the least well off and compounding their misery is the shrinking of local government, the services on which they most depend, not only cutting health, social care and education facilities but also depriving communities of libraries, parks and even repairs to roads and pavements. However, UK money can be found in its billions for vanity projects such as high speed rail links, new nuclear weapons and bombing Iraq.

So the penny pinching is officially just to reduce the deficit, the rate at which the National Debt grows, and not by enough to make a significant difference. The National Debt was never meant to be paid back in full, but constantly borrowed with, theoretically, only the interest to pay back. However, it was never meant to become hopelessly out of control either! Naturally, this does not bode well if the debt is increasing relentlessly and the country struggling to pay the interest. However, so is almost everyone else's national debt in the Western World, particularly in countries who bailed out their banks. The usual economic remedy is to wait for inflation to devalue the debt but this doesn't look likely any time soon.

The future looks like endless cuts, job losses, a low wage economy and grinding poverty for the vulnerable. Good Public Services are usually the bedrock of a prosperous economy but have apparently become an unnecessary luxury in this bankrupt one. Worryingly, there is no pretense that things will ever get better, evidenced by the governments at all levels selling off assets and not mothballing anything for future use when the economy really recovers. The cuts are clearly permanent. We are just told we need "less government" and more self reliance.

Are the less prosperous majority really condemned to endless, permanent reductions to our welfare state and standard of living while the economy crawls along like a slug? The answer is "Yes" as long as your politicians play the big money game. The major parties all espouse the analysis of cutting public spending and public jobs which is supposed to make things better by cutting the government's outgoings. Theoretically tax income will not be affected as the private sector would take on all the former public sector workers at around the same pay. In fact the cuts almost never produce the "savings" forecast and the private sector hasn't taken up the slack but used the opportunity to pay poverty wages to desperate people who then need benefits from the state just to survive. So its a lose - lose scenario but our governments still advocate it.

Why should we continue with an economic policy which isn't working?  Why should our councils, national governments and central government carry on punishing those with modest means, devastating health and social care provision and letting our basic infrastructure rot? It only continues because no-one is prepared to point out that both the Chancellor and the Shadow Chancellor have no clothes. It will all end in tears and no-one in power has the guts to say so. This isn't about Europe or immigration or the threat of Isis or how fast we cut or how much we borrow. The problem is arithmetical. The sums don't add up, the cuts are inadequate to produce enough savings and the economy too sluggish to respond with growth in wages big enough. If it isn't going to work, why bother with more pain for no gain?

There is no easy way out of this crisis but by accepting this strategy, we prolong it .Every day we agree to make or take the cuts is another day when we lose a little bit more of the welfare state and appear content  with our government's management of the situation. In a few months we will go into a General Election election where there is little choice as every major political party will have an unconvincing variation of the same flawed theme.

It is time to say "No". The world will not end, the country will not collapse and it is time to look at the other solutions, not behind closed doors but in an open and honest debate. What is the use of Democracy if the representatives abandon their voters and join the broad coalition of deceit  and misinformation fed from above by all Party Leaders? Even official oppositions have all become the mouthpieces of the Great Institutions of State, Public and Private. Where is the honesty, transparency and openness in a state where the politician lie about their true intentions and the likely outcomes of their decisions?

As UK budgets are handed down to the lower level of our currently compliant local authorities your local representatives will all have the opportunity to say "no " to the cuts they are asked to make on behalf of the UK government. However, the cuts to your services, to local council jobs and local facilities have already been accepted by the Council Leaders. Only which cuts to make first is the topic of discussion. If you do care, find time to contact your local Councillor and see if they have any answers other than going with the flow?.

Here in Carmarthenshire our "consultation" is a list of carefully crafted questions by which you are invited to chose between preferences on selected cuts . As the budget is practicality finalised  its a manipulated exercise only, the question of whether or not we should accept the cuts from the Welsh Government doesn't even feature.

  The cuts are generally accepted  by the party politicians as necessary to "save" the  UK economy. Councillors are encouraged to believe that there is no other option We need to suffer to keep the Bankers, the UK Government and the Multinationals above water. In Carmartheshire many staff have already been warned that they are likely to lose their posts in the cuts, even before the decisions are officially confirmed by the Councillors. Such is the confidence of our local government civil servants that there will be no rebellion, just the usual rubber stamp.

 Democracy is only as good as the quality of representation in the system. The Old Parties are stuck in collective team strategy dictated from above. Political Parties do not encourage dissent. They prevent free speech, use internal disciplinary procedures to enforce compliance and play a team game even when the outcome of the game is clearly going to be a disastrous loss. Modern politics needs a different stance, based on frequent contact and consultation with the voters. Representatives should constantly inform their electorate honestly and selflessly as to what is going on.

I personally abandoned the party system as I saw it as outdated, often perverse and increasingly unfit for the challenges facing us. I helped form People First/Gwerin Gyntaf to give true independents who wish to stand for public office a label and a brand distinct from the discredited  "Independent" label. "Independent" has been often used by those who are not truly independent and/or have personal self interest to the fore.

Bell's Principles, which we all espouse, are excellent pledges for quality political representation. They are not easy and ensure that you work harder than most politicians. Democracy should be about delivering the best for the people and nothing else.

Sian Caiach
People First County Councillor. Carmarthenshire.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Technical Terms - discharges of Untreated Sewage are not pollution.

Its official. On December 12th in Carmarthenshire County Hall at the monthly full council meeting the representatives of the local water company- Welsh Water -Dwr Cymru  explained to us Councillors that we were wrong to be upset about numerous spills of untreated sewage into our local estuary. Its not pollution, its not harmful and it definitely has been proven that its not  killing  off the cockles and destroying our local shellfish industry. Neither is there a problem with the current prosecution of the UK  in the European Court for alleged breach of the EU Urban Waste Water Directive.  It is merely an evidence collecting exercise. The UK cannot possibly be guilty as it has many other similarly badly performing urban sewage treatment units, the problem is those pesky Europeans demanding ridiculous standards of water quality.

Sometimes, in smaller, less public meetings,  Welsh Water officers are a little more frank, admitting that there is a problem and there just isn't enough money to put it right. The filming of this meeting meant that openness  and transparency went out the window. Just a PR exercise. The planned improvements will successfully put everything right and the Council can build as many houses as we like because there isn't a problem with the sewage. 

We've heard it all before. And now we've heard it again. In North Wales at Llyn Padarn the same company, WWDC have admitted causing algal blooms by discharging sewage into the lake. Again, they are adamant that the decline of the lakes's rare fish is merely coincidental. We have the algal blooms too in our estuary. These can eat up all the oxygen from the water killing fish and cockles alike but apparently not in waters where WWDC discharge. Its a mystery as to what can be causing havoc in these ecosystems.

Another coincidence is that the lake and the estuary are both bodies of water which discharge slowly, the sewage discharges and algae hanging around for a long time. 

I wonder if WWDC is just waiting for a successful vote to leave at the probable EU exit referendum as a solution to these "unreasonable" EU environmental standards? Just in case, even though the prosecution is not really happening, they still plan digging up much of central Llanelli and Burry Port to improve sewage drainage which will cause quite considerable disruption to both towns. Otherwise, there is nothing to worry about.

Carmarthenshire County council have been recently severely criticised for their lack of honesty, openness and transparency. Dwr Cymru this month reassured the councillors that they are not alone in having plenty to hide.

The start of the Dwr Cymru Welsh Water presentation can be found at the link below :-
My question and subsequent reply can be found here:-

Monday, 1 December 2014

When 10 people failed to "phone a friend"

Carmarthenshire County Council has received a very critical report from the Welsh Local Government Association, a report commissioned by them, from an organisation of which they are members and in which their leading Councillors have held office.

The reaction has been for Council to agree to set up a group of Councillors, selected by the various political groups, to look at the report and re-write the constitution which has been previously altered to prevent internal criticism of the ruling clique. No-one has taken responsibility for the sad state of affairs, no admission of wrongdoing and no resignations. The senior civil servants are leaving like rats from a sinking ship. The Councillors responsible are weathering the storm, hoping that by the next council election in 2017 the electors will have forgotten the scandal and vote for them again.

The issues which prompted the investigation were 2 unlawful payments to the chief executive which were picked up by the Wales Audit Office.

In the first case it was unlawfully giving money to the chief executive to pay his legal fees in a libel case against a blogger. He won, using the finest legal team and paying nothing himself, and got awarded £25,000 damages. His costs may have been over £40,000. We ordinary Councillors were told that the Executive had found a useful way of getting round the pesky law that stops all levels of government suing critics for libel. They had a legal opinion apparently, saying it was o.k. to fund an officer of the council in libel cases, in this case a proxy for the council as a whole .Not only the executive, but all the group leaders, including Plaid as well as Labour and the  right wing "Affiliated Independents" were all for it. No -one likes criticism apparently.

The problem was that no senior Councillor had seemingly checked the legal opinion by a Mr Goudie, which did not say what was claimed, quite the opposite in fact. We were lied to. A proper consultation, even of just all the other Councillors, with full access to all the documents would have
stopped this charade.

Looking back, I was wrong to assume anything was above board. I knew that the Exec Board were not renowned for their intellectual rigor and should not have thought that they had seen and understood, or even read Mr Goudie's legal report. I genuinely assumed, however, that the  County Council Officers would not go to the High Court ,spending huge sums of public money to punish a blogger if it was not legal, however immoral I might judge it to be. I should not have accepted that the reactionary Council leadership had found a legal way to prosecute pesky citizen journalists, as they claimed.  The convenient "loophole" in the law turned out to be unlawful.  I had wrongly believed that an official arm of government would always act within basic standards of decency and legality.  The Councillors, not the officers, are of course the ones liable. But in reality why should they fear any retribution, when the Labour Welsh Government has shown no clear desire to criticise  a Labour led council, one of "their own".

In the second case, it was clear that the Executive Board simply concealed unlawful payments made to our well paid Chief Executive when HMRC rule changes affected his pension contributions. Did our Council Executive Members really independently notice these rules had changed and rush to financially aid our highest paid employee financially inconvenienced by the tax system? None of them have given any explanation, but the suspicion is that it is more likely that the gentleman concerned would have initiated a request for the  payment deal he got. The ongoing secrecy is clearly the responsibility of the Councillors on the Executive Board and may originally have been not only due to the dodgy legality but also the likely political backlash if anyone found out. They must have known that even some of their their own group Councillors  would not countenance giving public money away in this circumstance, never mind their voters. No one else was told as no one else was trusted to keep mum about giving public money away to a rich employee in questionable circumstances. The continued secrecy condemns them all.

 So they hid the transaction. The minutes of their meeting do not record the decision to make these compensatory payments to the CEO. It's time someone did own up as to what actually happened and who was actually behind the decision to  promote and accept the scheme? The fact that an identical unlawful payment fiasco happened in adjacent Pembrokeshire County Council can surely not be co-incidental?. Again, no  apologies and no repercussions for the politicians involved as the Welsh Government appears to want to protect them rather than expose the issue further.

There has been a lot of discussion on possible introduction of  a "recall"  for higher ranks of  UK politicians, where a local petition could  result in a new election, where the incumbent has to stand again, but there is, as yet, no democratic way of voters getting rid of County Councillors before the next election in 2017. The  Council Executive Board members, who are paid significantly more than ordinary rank and file Councillors, clearly wish to carry on as well rewarded as before, with little acknowledgement of any problems brought up by these issues and absolutely no explanation of why and how they occurred.

I truly believe that if the Councillors who supported the unlawful payments had consulted with anyone outside their own inner circle, they would have acted differently.The  elected Leadership of our Council look like they have behaved deceitfully and wrongfully and refuse to say what really went on. What is so terrible about the truth of what happened?

As it is, we know unlawful payments were made on the authority of Carmarthenshire's leading Councillors. Neither the Welsh Government nor the major political groups on the Council appear seriously concerned enough to consistently condemn their actions and  press to seek explanations.  Many of the public have lost confidence in the whole Council, and don't understand the ongoing secrecy about what actually happened. Why is there no attempt of a truthful account of the decisions? If the WLGA investigators were told the truth, it isn't in their report. The leading players are not talking and we are encouraged by the WLGA assessors to change our culture, regain trust in each other and move on. With the same bums in the same seats and no openness or transparency about the mistakes, I don't think we're going far ! If only one of them had phoned a friend.....

Sian Caiach