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Saturday, February 28, 2009

The art of opposition

The leader of the four strong Conservative Group on Swansea Council is in a hurry. He wants to be running things and making decisions. His view is that Scrutiny and other Committees are a waste of time and that his energies are best directed towards holding the executive to account.

He believes, as do many more of us, that the best model for a local Council was the former Committee system, whereby multi-party meetings actually made decisions. Unfortunately, that system was abolished by an Act of Parliament in 2000.

There is an alternative model, involving a multi-party board that has been adopted by a few councils in Wales, but Swansea opted for Cabinet government many years ago and Assembly Government regulations make it all but impossible to change mid-stream. Besides the level of acrimony and petty back-biting on Swansea Council leads one to think that the idea of cross party co-operation in such a system is just a pipe-dream. Nobody in their right mind would consider even proposing it whilst Councillors continue to bite chunks out of each other in the way they are doing in Swansea.

Councillor Kinzett of course, has other reasons for standing down from Council Committees. He has to work for a living and has a full-time job based in London. That is his business and that of his electors. Other Councillors need to work away from time to time as well. What is important is not that they need to absent themselves from Swansea, but that they continue to do their job of representing their electorate. Nobody has suggested that Councillor Kinzett or any other Councillor is falling down in that regard.

However, the purpose of this post is not to highlight the various disputes that dominate Council life in Swansea, it is challenge the assertion by the Conservative Group leader in today's South Wales Evening Post that the committees he has resigned from are not important.

Councillor Kinzett says: "The vast majority of these committee meetings are a complete waste of time. They are unproductive and nothing ever gets done. I plan to stay on the ones that are of use but the others are little more than just talking shops." He attacked his colleagues as a group of "past-it" over-60s who have never left Swansea. For the record the other three members of the Conservative Group are over-60, whilst the vast majority of the Council's cabinet are still of working age.

The Committees that Councillor Kinzett has resigned from include the Appointments Committee, which is responsible for employing the officers that the Tory leader often criticises publicly, the Disciplinary Committee, which he says is 'useless' even though it is a key part of the personnel function exercised by Councillors and actually makes decisions, and the Environment Scrutiny Board. He has also quit the Finance Overview board, which makes recommendations on Council finances and efficiencies and the member support group, which helps to determine what level of support members get to do their job.

The point is that under the Cabinet system that has been imposed on Councils by Westminster, the role of scrutiny is absolutely crucial to check the power of the Executive. If Councillors opt out from that then they are failing in their role to hold the Cabinet to account in the sort of detailed way that is not possible at full Council meetings.

Opposition and backbench Councillors may not take decisions for the most part but they do have a huge influence on the way those decisions are taken and can contribute enormously to the efficiency and effectiveness of the local authority by their participation in this process. This is part of their wider duty to the whole local authority area and is the basis of their public service.

To dismiss that role so easily as the Tory Group Leader has done is to undermine the interests of his voters and that of the wider public good. By all means come off the committees if you do not have the time to do the job justice but do not expect us to believe that you are doing so on the grounds of fake altruism when your public duty is clearly to work within an imperfect system and make it better.
Swansea’s Tory Leader Cllr Rene Kinzett reckons anyone over sixty years of age is ‘past it’ as far as being a Councillor. That being so, will the Swansea Conservative Party now promise not to select anyone over the age of late fifties for the four year term of Council Office that they could possibly win. We would not wish to have any Tory Councillor upsetting their own Leader in Swansea, and will the existing Tory Councillors Tony Colburn; Paxton Hood-Williams and Margaret Smith now be retiring forthwith as their average age is actually over seventy? Of course I say this in jest only to highlight how utterly bizarre Councillor Rene Kinzett has become in his recent moronic snide outbursts. He must surely now be an embarrassment and a serious liability to the Conservative Party across all of South West Wales which is the wider readership area of our great local newspaper the "Evening Post” that has brought his bad mannered conduct to public attention. Not only that, he has only attended 12 out of 92 Council duties / meetings in the past year as he now lives in London. There can only be one word left and that is "RESIGN".
As a P.S. - may I add that further to embarass the Conservatives, Cllr Rene Kinzett puts a whip on his tiny group of Senior Citizens Colburn; Smith and Hood-Williams that they must under his orders consistently support the Labour Party at Swansea Council. What a strange unofficial but regular coalition of Conservative in bed with Labour - versus - Lib Dems and Independents and Plaid Cymru at Swansea Council. Peter, before I'm attacked on this - can you confirm it please? What will Tory London Central Office say about this? They will know because I intend informing them of Cllr Kinzett's bizarre outbursts and his strange political partnerships.
Peter, whilst most of your readers probably couldn't give tuppence for these little local spats (and one wonders why you bother getting so worked up about me, given your role as a national politician - I'd certainly be ignoring me if I were you...), I did think this quote from the Labour-leaning "Insideout@swansea" blogspot was quite amusing:

"there are those who perceive him (Cllr Kinzett) as just another of those under-achieving ‘professionals’, whose only real affiliation with the area is their time at Swansea university and who regard a stint in local government as no more than an inconvenient but necessary stepping stone to higher elected office in Westminster or Cardiff Bay"

They can't possible mean you as well? lol

As for "Green Man" aka Ioan Richard, its a shame that someone who used to be a teacher and therefore used to have to balance working-life with the demands of attending Council meetings in the daytime is now spending his free time in retirement telephoning the Evening Post to report on my every movement. Quite worrying really.

I appreciate your comments, Peter, that I perform my duties as Councillor with no obvious problems.

On another note - anonymous postings: when will you enforce this viz Ioan "Green Man" Richard?

It could not possibly refer to me René as I stayed in local politics and maintain my roots here.

I know that this is a local issue but I felt that it raised wider matters about the role of Councillors, the Cabinet system and scrutiny that deserved airing. This is especially so as the Local Government Committee in the Assembly is shortly to publish a report on scrutiny that has recommendations that impinge on your stance.

Green Man is not technically anonymous as he has a consistent on-line identity that means that comments by him are attributable and of course you, I and others know who he is. Although his remarks could be more constructive they do not sink to the level of entirely negative sniping and mud-slinging that some anonymous comments do. For that reason I tolerate him because he provokes debate.
well, I can't wait to see the Report. I don't think you were still in the Chamber by the time we got to debate the "pre-decision scrutiny" report from the CEO, but I made some observations about previous Ministerial Guidance from WAG and spoke (from hope, rather than informed expectation) about possible new guidance/policy on the matter. I would, as you know, be happy to engage positively with constructive proposals and the decision made by your Group on the Council at the AGM in May was completely out of sync with "progressive" thought on the issue of scrutiny. Cetainly any ruling Group at the Assembly, Scottish Parliament, NILA, GLA or Parliament would not be able to get away with such a move...the fact that Council Groups of all political hue take a "winner takes all" (or variant on the theme) should not be used as an excuse by any local authority to follow suit and any further guidance would be welcomed and I, for one, would (and do) advocate forcefully within my own Party at all levels to respect real cross-party control of scrutiny arrangements in local government. R
Lets all put scarves over our mouths and laugh
AS the Four Tops would have put it "Just Walk away Rene"
So I'm not constructive says Peter Black - in this BLOG of his - in which he simply concentrates on just recycling early reports generally from London newspapers in the guise of pseudo intellectualism - in other words "simple plagiarism" - with no ideas of original thought. Well let's be really non constructive - can we all just simply tell Rene Kinzett to pack his bags; and his cat Derek into a Cat Box and just go to London and stay there forever, and give Swansea people and their Council and the Mayals Ward the dedication and respect we all deserve from committed people - not a rude absent opportunist.
Spectacular display of Cllr Ioan Richard at his finest, most amusing, resembling a tired and emotional gatecrasher at a party who abuses his host before venting spleen at his latest fixation. I wonder what special place I have in Cllr Richard's life that makes him think of me so much - I have to tell him that I think I take up a hell of a lot more space in his head than he does in mine! Try to find some more positive ways to use your energy, old chap. Like pursue Cllr Rob Speht who spends more time out of the UK that I do out of Swansea!
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