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

Sunday 13 March 2016

If Councillors Don't Lead, Who Leads The Council?

As the winter-that-never-was finally ends thoughts inevitably turn to spring, the season of rebirth, of fresh growth, the all-important second step into the new year.

Or it does, presumably, for people outside of Carmarthenshire County, where nothing ever changes and time is a delicate illusion, where you can step into a shop and buy a shiny new iPhone only to drive half an hour down the road and find network coverage more equivalent to the 90s. Possibly the 1890s.

Or perhaps even further back. In light of the council’s continued refusal to acknowledge the auditor’s rulings against their unlawful payment of tithes of public money towards Mark James, perhaps the good old jail is still under the rule of fickle feudal lords, throwing their weight about with no concern for who they crush underfoot.

Ah, Mark James. As CEO he is always there, presumably just following orders . There’s not much I can say about the man, not for lack of information, you understand, but simple self-preservation. Despite what his weathered appearance would suggest, Mark has skin like the most delicate moth’s wing, and would I am sure have no qualms about taking an unemployed disabled person living off increasingly measly benefits (that’d be me) to court for the slightest of insult, where his highly-paid lawyers would trounce anything my £58/week income could manage and leave me financially mutilated for the better part of my life before sending the legal heavies over to take what few possessions of worth I have. You can say this much about the man: he doesn’t let compassion get in the way of being a good civil servant.

Mark may have an ego that far, far eclipses his skills and in my opinion the council should never have thrown bad money after bad on him as often as they have, but make no mistake; like the malformed, fleshy mole that springs up overnight and swells greedily as it feeds off the blood of its host, he is merely a symptom of the cancer within.

You see, there is one thing that Mark has that his elected colleagues don’t: a position of authority. You’d think it’d be the other way around, but then I’d invite you to think again. What is a council, really? A collection of people elected, not hired. Nobody handed in a CV, there was no vetting process for talent or skill. They were voted in because they talked nice, or had the right colour rosette on, or because they reminded you of your friend Dave and Dave’s a solid chap.

And why are they there, for their part? Because their friends told them they’d be good at it, or they happened to be in the right place at the right time when their party needed a candidate, or because they wrote an angry letter to the paper once and mistook annoyance and verbosity for political charisma, or because it was in the family (that’d be me, again). Oh, there’s the spark of something, the ashes of what once might have been an activist’s fire, before the battenberg and the pints got to it, but like most of us, many are there because they’re There and don’t know quite how to stop.

And even if there’s still a few embers smoldering there, a bit of rage at injustice and inequality… well, we’ve all shouted at some unlucky elite sportsman on the telly that “even I could’ve made that shot!” but that doesn’t make it true, does it?

Getting into the job doesn’t mean you have the first clue how it works. You’d be hard pressed to find a degree in law, economics, even sociology between any given dozen of them. They’re not handed textbooks at the start of term and told to get through them by the holidays. They’re middle-class by nature if not birth, old and tired. Most of them don’t know real, crushing poverty, or unemployment that lasts for years, not months, or what it’s like to face down bigotry on the street or in your school or from a police constable. And if they by some miracle have, it’s life experience that’s years out of date by the time they settle into those comfy leather pews and expenses.

At worst, they’re completely ignorant. They look nice on a glossy leaflet but they think Nye Bevan is a sort of bread loaf and quantitative easing is how you get a fat person in and out of bed. You wouldn’t trust them with a child’s plastic scissors and now they’re voting on your health and social care.

Even the better ones can’t know everything, and they’re not encouraged to try. They get handed a fifty-page book on the new school plans and their eyes glaze over as they struggle through the terminology, the diagrams, the two hundred year-old legal jargon. And they realise, all too late, that they are out of their depth, and in two weeks they need to make a decision that could make or break a small town they’ve never been to, whose name they can’t even pronounce.

And in their panic, they look up for guidance, and there are the Mark Jameses, who’ve read all the books and know how the system works, and they smile reassuringly, and tell them which way to vote, and say it’s all going to be okay.

Ari Caiach-Taylor

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Yes Cymru

On February 20th 2016 a new organisation called Yes Cymru launched in Cardiff. This organisation seeks to revive the project of Welsh Independence. The current position of the only large Nationalist Party in Wales, Plaid Cymru seems to be that independence is not a sensible option in the current economic climate but there were plenty of ordinary Plaid members there at the launch. An interesting presentation by Liz Castro from Catalonia showed how well an independence movement can do as a grass roots organisation mobilizing the people despite the views of the mainstream Catalan Parties.

Yes Cymru's launch was on 20th February in the Old Library, Cardiff and despite foul weather around 100 people turned up. If you are interested in Welsh Independence check out their website and facebook site with a full record of the presentations. Good food for thought.

Siân Caiach