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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Serving the local electorate

The report of the Councillor Commission Expert Panel for Wales that can be found here has one or two sensible suggestions but also some rather silly ones too. The panel is packed with Labour and Plaid Cymru place-people as well as one or two others who might be considered independent, but the fact that none of the opposition were represented is surprising especially when the report seeks to make recommendations for all political parties.

You have to ask yourself why Welsh Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, UKIP, Greens and other parties would want to implement recommendations that are being imposed on them by Labour and Plaid? Of course we will consider them but it is hardly a good start for the report is it?

The panel is rightly concerned about getting more women and ethnic minorities engaged in politics and elected to local Councils, but I am not clear what will be achieved by recommendation one in which local authorities are asked to undertake equality monitoring amongst candidates standing for election and all newly-elected councillors including community and town councillors. After all they will not be in a position to influence anything and this is the sort of job that could be done retrospectively by a good researcher.

They suggest that consideration should be given to introducing a legal separation of the executive and non-executive functions of the council with separate funding streams that would protect the central provision of members’ services and yet has this not been in place since 2000? Admittedly, scrutiny is under-resourced in almost every Council but funding is tight and is going to get tighter.

A lot of things in the report are already being done including training and councillor support but there is always room for more. I do think that people have to understand that there is only so much training that a Councillor can do before it starts to impinge on his or her other work. Most are after all part-time and some have proper jobs so they need to manage their day to fit in all the meetings and ward work they have to do. Often seminars and training are used by some Councils to keep Councillors occupied so that they do not cause so many problems for the Executive.

By far the most controversial proposals are that local authorities should make arrangements to support councillors to publish (as a minimum on the website) an annual report of their work both in their communities and within the council and that a commmunication allowance should be available to councillors which could be used to fund communication with their electorate. They also suggest effective job descriptions for Councillors. All of that is palpable nonsense.

It is not up to Councils nor a panel of Plaid and Labour politicians to dictate to Councillors how they do their job. As long as members keep within the code of conduct that is a matter for their electorate. Equally, the idea that scare public resources should be used to reinforce incumbency and provide individual propaganda on the taxpayer is unacceptable. I have opposed it for MPs, it does not happen in the Welsh Assembly and it should not be allowed at a local level either.

I very much hope that when the Minister considers this report that he does so selectively and seeks to build a consensus around the better proposals rather than try to impose the whole package on us unamended.
Peter, Can I suggest that one way in which local politics could be made more innclusive, would be to make the local link more obvious - to explain:

I was raised in Sarn near Bridgend, which for some obscure reason is in Community known as St Brides Minor, which has two electoral wards Sarn and Bryncoch (but which in reality is Bryncethin). Why cant we call a spade a spade - rename the Community as Sarn & Bryncethin - with a combined multimember electoral ward. And then give the elected Councillors twin roles - Not only would they sit on be County Borough Council, they would also together form the Community Council.

I am sure that more people could be attracted to participate (and vote) if there was more of a community link (although I accept that not everywhere is as geographically challenged as Bridgend.
"I am not clear what will be achieved by recommendation one in which local authorities are asked to undertake equality monitoring amongst candidates standing for election and all newly-elected councillors including community and town councillors." Good to see taxpayers money being put to good use again. For I quite agree with you Peter but, I do expect, for entirely different reasons. Call me old-fashioned but I actually believe in this bizarre notion that only the best person for the job should be picked - regardless of race, gender or culture. True equality doesn't involve "equality monitoring" or some other Left wing PC claptrap - for this is all the antithesis of true equality. Mind you, I'm not surprised by the contents of this report, a report written by Labour and Plaid Cymru after all. No doubt if The Liberal Democrats had been involved they would have insisted, nay demanded, that politically appointed "good researchers" doing the "equality monitoring" should be "equality monitored" as well. Don't take all this the wrong way, Peter, but I do sense taxpayers would really appreciate (and I do mean REALLY appreciate) a cut in their Council Tax right now, rather than more of this politically correct nonsense.

For most councillors I have come across do not have "proper" jobs besides. Unless, of course, you count working for a political party or getting drunk down the boozer as a proper job. Indeed, I guess a lot of councillors have become councillors because they want to avoid work - or perhaps the dole. For some of them seem pretty unemployable to me and second rate at best. A case of being a councillor or working in a call centre, one does imagine. For councillors are, by and large, parasites I'm afraid. A drain on the limited finances of working people. This report then should be asking some difficult and tough questions instead. Questions like, how many councillors do we need? Do we need so many representatives in Wales kept at the public purse? Could we half them? Would anybody notice the difference? Do they as individuals give "value for money"?

I can imagine that getting some councillors to produce an annual report of their work, whilst also insisting they communicate any work they have done (if any), is proving just a bit controversial. Nothing like doing some real work to scare some councillors half witless. Mind you, you are right here. Why should taxpayers fund communication allowances? Surely it is all part and parcel of the job description. Oh, sorry, they don't have one of those either - they just make it up as they go along and do as they please. Like sit on their backsides all day, go down to the boozer, sit on their backsides all day, claim their expenses and then go back down the boozer. Councillors are becoming like benefit scroungers with one difference. They don't have to do any real work for their handouts.
I do not want to paint all councils, local councillors or community councillors by the same brush. It would be unfair.
But some must be better than others. Where I am in Llanwinio we have seven elected community councillors. The community councils geography is arranged on the old anglican church's reaches.
In this community of a number of small villages there is certain things local people want to address such as
i) village sign post stolen
ii) burnt out cars
iii) an extant BT telphone box that is on my friends land
iv) planning issues
v) dreadful bus service, 1 weekday bus per week
A host of other issues i will not name.
My investigations have only led to the naming of four of the magnificent seven. The local county council claim they do not know either who the community councils. The meetings of these older gentlemen take place in secret. Not once in six years has one public meeting being advertised. In fact local people have not a clue that they even exist! Public meetings with the possibility of memebers of the public t go along if they so wish. To address issues like joyriding, disease ridden slurry ,the lack of any policing whatsoever. Also that I have had to make my own sheriff badge out of a piece of metal.
That's what community councils are all about. To bring more locally relevant democracy to local people. To engage in peaceable debate to solve local matters.
These magnificent seven receive £1800 a year for ABSOLUTELY NOWT .
I know alot of young people who are renting crappy accommodation who are unable to get on the property ladder and whose council tax payments pay for these cowboys out here.
Anything that can be done to make them do there job.....steam let off Mr. Rhetoric
They also suggest effective job descriptions for Councillors. All of that is palpable nonsense.
Sorry to profoundly disagree but you have just amazed me with the statement that Councillors DON'T have job descriptions. If they haven't then they should have. If the local authority doesn't do it, then political parties should.
I have never thought of it before - because it seems to me so blindingly obvious - but how is a councillor to know/judge their own performance without at least a job description.
And if you think that job descriptions aren't necessary - then you'll probably think that a set of measurable standards of performance (aka national standards used for things like NVQs) are a very silly idea. I don't.
I actually bothered clicking on the link you provided Peter.

I notice that this document was commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government - hence won't be worth the paper it isn't written on!

I've very much grown too loath this particular organisation; with this petty bureaucrats. Having worked for an organisation that had some direct links with the Welsh Assembly Government I was unfortunate enough to visit the offices at Merthyr Tydfil on a couple of occasions.

Very plush they are too, complete with security guards, air conditioning, coffee machines, and even an X-ray machine like the ones seen in Airports. Unfortunately, not many of the electorate get to see the inside of one of WAGs many offices, which I find extremely disappointing, since those who pay income tax are paying for this!

All suits and no substance!
Peter, I think the question that needs to be asked is what are the job descriptions for?

Job descriptions are used to define the tasks involved in a job, set targets and to measure performance against those targets. The danger is that they will be used by local authorities/political parties to control the activities of Councillors and try to restrict their freedom to do their job.

Councillors are accountable to their electorate not to their party or to the Council. It is up to voters to evaluate their performance and they will do so according to their own expectations rather than the parameters set by others.
most councillors in Swansea, of course, are not in any form of employment or occupation other than being a councillor. Hence the ridiculous age profile of councillors against population. Only about 10 Members list any form of occupation other than elected councillor. There is a huge amount of work to be done to make local democracy work properly in Wales and we should consider this Report carefully.

You had left the last Council Meeting before my Motion acknowledging this Report was tabled. It was referred to a committee for further consideration, but will come back to Council in due course.
"I do not want to paint all councils, local councillors or community councillors by the same brush. It would be unfair."

Neither do I and that is why I used the word "some". A lot of people who are councillors do a fantastic job - but do we need so many councillors in Wales or could all these "good people" be used elsewhere in the system? For I am currently represented by five people. Two local councillors, one Welsh Assembly member, one member of Parliament and one member of a European Parliament. That's 5 people, 5 salaries and 5 admin costs, which I have to fund. Do we, in Wales, really need them ALL? I also have a place in London where I am also "over-represented".

For I have never contacted my two councillors, never contacted my Welsh Assembly member and have never contacted my member of The European Parliament. However, I have written to my numerous MPs three times over the past twenty years - each time being a complete and utter waste of time. So I won't bother doing that again. For each time I received this letter (clearly written by a Civil Servant) and which was merely signed by the MP. May as well not bother with these MP either and just have Civil Servants running the show - which, from my own experience of Government, is the case anyway. Hee! Hee! Hee!
In Penyffordd nr Mold ( 12 councillors) we have 10 "Independents" who appeared on one electoral sheet. They all received nearly the same vote. They all got on. Any newcomers just get blocked out. I refer to them as Dad's Army.
Whilst accomodation has to be made for handicapped people to stand the current system is open to abuse by any local "godfather" who runs the sheet. The council is full of people who should have retired 10 years ago. Their idea of being a councillor is turning up once a month for committee meetings. Over a 1000 vehicles speed through Penyffordd each day. They would rather children risk their lives than act on complaints made by myself.The system needs changing.

Colin Hughes
Penyffordd District
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