Sunday, 10 August 2014

New Cardiff Chief Executive

City Pays £53,499.63 To Appoint a New Chief Executive

Cardiff has a new Chief Executive – Paul Orders – at a cost of £170,000 a year. The strongest of a weak field he was appointed to the role by a cross party appointment panel in the place of the retiring Chief Executive. Having worked previously at Cardiff City Council he was recruited from the position of Chief Executive of the New Zealand City of Dunedin.

Clearly a man of some experience, but a number of questions need to be asked here. Why was such a huge sum spent in recruiting him? This includes £37,000 on consultants! Also how long with the post last? We are facing a local government reorganisation with the next 5 years with Cardiff likely to be merged with the Vale of Glamorgan council. What sort of severance package was offered?

Perhaps more to the point why do we need a Chief Executive at all? The post grew out of the post of Town Clerk, who was the principle legal advisor to the council. Over the years it has grown to become virtual city manager. Yet we have a full time Council Leader – surely there is duplication here. We have seen authorities like Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire where the Chief Executives seem to be in charge of the authority – dictating to elected councillors rather than serving them.

The time has come for looking at the position, I would argue that with the cabinet system it is a largely redundant post and in danger of usurping the role of the elected council leader.

Maybe when local government reorganisation happens we can take a look at this post and save a little money by scrapping it and returning the power back where it belongs in the hands of the elected councillors?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Conservative Party at a Crossroads

The recent row and subsequent sackings of four shadow ministers over the issue of income tax throws into sharp relief the identity crisis facing the Conservative Party in Wales. Is it merely a regional branch of the Conservative Party or is it the Welsh Conservative party?

Clearly any leader of a party that sets out a policy and then has senior officeholders abstaining or voting against that policy would be fatally wounded if they didn’t sack the erring members. But can the National Assembly Conservative Group make policy at odds with that of the UK leadership? Nick Ramsey clearly feels that if it comes to backing UK policy or Welsh policy then UK policy takes primacy, and the one that is out of step is the Welsh Leader. Indeed if this was just bust up between some abrasive characters in the National Assembly then there would be limited interest and impact, but the Conservative Board for Wales was in crisis talks and it would seem that the rebel view that they could not go against policy as enunciated by Secretary of State for Wales was widely supported.Yet the Leader of the Conservative Group in the National Assembly was elected by a ballot of all Conservative Party members in Wales. Who has the mandate?

This row goes to the heart of the identity of the Conservative Party in Wales. In Scotland they have a different constitutional relationship with the party in Wales & England. The Welsh party seems to have no more autonomy than does constituency party in England.

I suspect this row will not propagate very far outside the political observers but it is fundamental. The Conservative Party in Wales has clawed its way out of oblivion, thanks in part to a more proportional electoral system in the National Assembly and a considered re branding as a Welsh Party. This row could leave a lingering impression that the re-branding is just skin deep and when push comes to shove it is just an English party masquerading as a Welsh party.

I am no friend of the Conservative Party but if it is serious in its ambition of projecting its Welsh credentials it needs a formal separation from the “UK” party along the lines of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. That would be good for Welsh politics and give a voice to those genuine Welsh Conservatives. The die hard anti devolutionists who want no differences between Wales and England - believers in a West Anglia, would be better off in UKIP.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Labour Backs the Petermander

In an extraordinary move the executive of the Labour Party in Wales has backed Peter Hain's proposal to rig elections to the National Assembly.

Previously National Assembly seats were linked to those to Westminster, with 40 first past the post seats and 20 regional list seats. With Westminster constituencies reduced to 30 the Assembly seats have been decoupled. Rather than freeze for all time the constituency boundaries to the existing 40 there has been an ongoing discussion on how we can organise electoral boundaries in the future.

The simplest method (though not without its pitfalls) is to elect 30 AMs by First Past the Post using the new 30 Westminster constituencies and the rest via regional lists, increasing the number elected in each region to six. This would have the advantage of making the system more representative. It would also have the side effect of reducing Labour's over representation - something that clearly exercises the mind of Peter Hain.

His counter proposal is to abolish the regional lists and elect 2 AMs from each Westminster constituency, thus handing 70% of the seats in the National Assembly to Labour. To say that there are grave doubts about this within the Labour Assembly group would be an understatement. Initially Carwyn Jones rejected such a scheme out of hand. But in a forced show of party unity Labour backed Hain's plan.

Welsh Labour is at one on this issue," said a joint statement from First Minister Carwyn Jones and Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain after the meeting of the Welsh Labour executive.

It said the UK government had "absolutely no mandate" to change the voting system in Wales.

"Any attempt to do so without a clear mandate from the people of Wales would be deeply disrespectful to both them and the Welsh government," they said.

So there we have it - the Assembly Labour Group and the elected leader of the Labour Party in the National Assembly, elected by all Labour members, has to give way to the appointed Labour shadow Secretary of State in the name of party unity.

Once again Labour has proven that its interests come before that of the country, that the Welsh Party is subservient to appointed Westminster placemen. It its time that the people of Wales woke up to that reality and at the next election reduces Labour to a party of opposition, as clearly its incapable of standing up for Wales.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Hain's latest Petermander

I see that Peter Hain has revived his call for a change to the electoral system for the National Assembly for Wales. When he previously proposed this he said it was in the spirit of consensus and that there would be no advantage to Labour. This time around, in an article to the Labour Party Conference paper he comes clean.

http://home.freeuk.net/clpd/cb2011mon.pdf

In it he argues:

"Everyone is agreed on the need to avoid decoupling in Wales, and maintain the same boundaries for Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies."

That is a massively sweeping statement that has no clear backing. Many have suggested quite separate arrangements.

Prior to the referendum it was suggested by some that the present 2 constituency to 1 list member be retained and the National Assembly be reduced to 45 members. This was universally rejected by all the parties as it would have reduced the capacity for the Assembly to properly scrutinise the executive and would have considerably reduced the pool of members to chose members of the Welsh Government from.

It has been suggested that the 30 new Westminster constituencies be used to elect 30 members of the National Assembly - the remainder coming from 30 regional list members. Of course that would have the advantage of making the body more representative, not less as Hain suggests. It has the disadvantage that if Wales loses any more seats at Westminster that the number of members of the National Assembly would fall... precipitating yet another change in the electoral geography and/or system of election.

One option is no change, maintain the boundaries of the current Assembly constituencies indefinitely together with the current boundaries of the electoral regions and the ratio of members elected from constituencies and regions.

My preferred solution is an 80 member National Assembly elected by STV using local government as the building blocks for the constituencies. This would give stability and also enable people to identify more closely with their Assembly member.

STV is backed by Plaid Cymru, The Liberal Democrats, sections of the Labour Party, The Richard Commission and many non governmental bodies.

At present the National Assembly is made up of 40 MPs elected by first past the post, using UK parliamentary constituencies, together with a further 20 members elected via regional lists from 5 regions. The attempt is to create a more representative body. As it lacks the German "overhanging mandates" the system is not perfectly proportional. However it is considerably more proportional than first past the post.

In the last National Assembly election Labour gained 50% of the seats with just 42% of the vote.

Constituency vote:

Labour 28 seats and 42% of the constituency vote 70% of the seats
Conservative Party 6 seats and 25% of the constituency vote 15% of the seats
Plaid Cymru 5 seats and 19% of the constituency vote 12.5% of the seats
Liberal Democrats 1 seat and 11% of the constituency vote 2.5% of the seats
Others no seats and 3% of the constituency vote.

The list vote was as follows:

Conservative Party 8 seats and 23% of the list vote
Plaid Cymru 6 seats and 18% of the list vote
Liberal Democrats 4 seats and 8% of the list vote
Labour 2 seats and 37% of the list votes.
Others no seats and 14% of the list vote

Overall the result was:

Labour 30 seats, 42% of the vote 50% of the seats
Conservatives 14 seats 25% of the vote 23.34% of the seats
Plaid Cymru 11 seats 19% of the vote 18.33% of the seats
Liberal Democrats 5 seats 11% of the vote 8.33% of the seats


Not ideal but better than giving Labour a bonus of 70% of the seats - which would be the outcome of Peter Hain's proposals of two first past the post seats based on 30 Westminster constituencies.

The arguments against are neatly contained in Gareth Hughes' blog.

http://ogarethhughes.blogspot.com/


The arguments for STV are put here and suggestions for a sixty member National Assembly, the article also has links to the evidence given by the Campaign for a Welsh Parliament to the Richard Commission. The commission its self came down in favour of an 80 member Assembly elected by STV.

http://syniadau--buildinganindependentwales.blogspot.com/2009/11/stv-constituencies-in-wales.html

And for a possible arrangement of constituencies for 80 members

http://syniadau--buildinganindependentwales.blogspot.com/search?q=STV+80

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Regional and Local Government in Wales

There has been much discussion about the nature of local government in Wales. We were left with a local government system that commonly is described as having unitary all purpose authorities that replaced the former two tier system. In actuality its more complex than that.


A quick bit of history. Wales was, until re-oganisation in 1974, divided into 13 county councils, 4 county borough councils, several hundred municipal boroughs, urban and rural districts, to say nothing of parish councils. These were reduced to 8 county councils, 37 borough/district councils and several hundred community councils. A further re-organisation in 1996 reduced the count of councils down to 22 unitary or most purpose authorities (together with the often forgotten community councils). This of course ignores the existing joint boards and ad hoc authorities that run the police, fire and health service in Wales, all of which were once within the realm of local government.


Few people doubt that the current structure is untenable. Many of our 22 unitary authorities are too small to be effective bodies for administering certain services, education for example. The current trend is to organise service delivery into regional consortia; usually with one authority acting as a lead authority in the field. We are seeing these evolve in waste disposal and education, as well as in other areas. The Local Government minister is urging councils to share chief executives and other senior staff, share payroll and other financial administrations etc. What is emerging is a patchwork of overlapping consortia, joint boards and ad hoc single purpose bodies running what were once part of local governmental.


For the public its sometimes very difficult to work out just who does what and who is responsible for what. In terms of democratic accountability these new bodies are sadly lacking. The recent move to executive governance in local authorities has created great powers of patronage with the leadership, membership of the consortia bodies – when they exist, is very much in their gift. I worry that this all diminishes the role of ordinary councillors and the wider public. I do not think that this is healthy.


Effectively we are now overlaying on the existing structure new bodies, all with different make ups, all serving different geographical areas and all reducing coherent and joined up government.


Other suggestions of sharing chief executives and senior officers creates more problems, what if the two or more local authorities have different policies and priorities, how do the shared officers deal with this conflict? Or do we end up with the officers making political decisions? If so whether democracy now?


I think its time to grasp the nettle and reform local government – yes it will cost money and in the time of recession can we afford it? Maybe the damage to democracy is to great to leave this much longer and permit the drift to unaccountable and fragmented government to continue.


Community Councils


My first step would be to strengthen the first level of government in Wales, the often neglected community councils. After reorganisation in 1974 they covered nearly all areas in Wales. Essentially nearly every community had a community council. These were originally the rural parishes and urban district councils. The areas of the four original county boroughs were exempt, and some small communities opted to share a council with a neighbouring larger community. In the former county borough councils no community councils were established, though their pre 1974 territory was divided into communities for electoral purposes. Currently communities can create and disband councils – though the threshold is now quite high.


As a first reform I would ensure that every area was covered by a community council. Which would mean that the existing communities in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Merthyr Tydfil would gain community councils, and those few communities with no population (such as the one covering the Port Talbot Steelworks) would be joined to their neighbouring community and share a community council.


Secondly I would elect these community councils by STV, either from a single electoral district or from a number of multi member electoral areas. In instances where more than one community shares a council then the constituent communities will elect a minimum of 3 members to the council (excepting those communities with no people!).


Thirdly for each community council there will be a parallel Youth Council, made up of young people aged between 11 and 18. The numbers and method of election/nomination I would leave to the community council. This youth council would be encouraged to take an active part in the affairs of the community, debating and sending recommendations to the community council. Ideally this would act both as conduit for youth views and as an incubator for new members of the community council.


Fourthly I would enable the county/county borough councils to devolve responsibility to community councils in their area, either to specific councils or to all community councils in their area.

Fifthly I would ensure that the cost of running community council elections was met completely by the county/county borough council.


Finally I would lower the voting age to 16 but retain the age where you can stand for election at 18.

I believe that this will strengthen grass roots democracy and encourage wider participation in local affairs.


County Councils


These would have their functions reduced leaving them as an intermediary authority providing services as:


  • housing
  • waste collection
  • local planning
  • recreation and leisure facilities
  • public toilets*
  • street lights*
  • allotments*
  • weights, measures & trading standards
  • the library service & museums
  • public footpaths*
  • non trunk roads.
  • local police scrutiny
* shared with Community Councils.

Like Community Councils I would elect the County Councils by STV. This will necessitate the creation of, at minimum, 3 member wards, I think the multi member nature of these wards is more likely to encourage electoral contests, which would be good for democracy. At present too high a percentage of seats are won "unopposed". Apart from separating Montgomeryshire from Powys necessitating the creation of a Brecon & Radnor County and de-merging the Cynon Valley from Rhondda Cynon Taff and merging it with Merthyr Tydfil to create a new Merthyr and Cynon Valleys council I would not alter the map. There is a great attachment to the old historic counties of in West Wales and I believe that they should be left in place, if with a slightly reduced role.


Regional Commissions


More generally my worry is democratic accountability, local government has been eroded everywhere, functions taken away and joint boards created with nominated and co-opted people. We have 7 health boards, 4 police authorities, 3 fire authorities and now education and waste disposal consortia. It seems to me that consortia have the greatest lack of democratic accountability yet devised for local government since the second world war.


Perhaps its time to bite the bullet and bring back into democratic control the police, fire and health authorities and create a new system of regional authorities taking on these functions - together with some functions from the current county councils. I would suggest keeping the existing authorities, with a few minor tweaks, but creating 5 regional bodies - lets call them Commissions, which would take over health & social services, fire, police, education (including further but not higher education), waste disposal, public transport, major roads and strategic planning. This would heal the democratic divide that has crept into public administration in the last 30 or so years, leaving community councils to be strengthened and the existing county and county borough councils to run more local services, like housing, local planning, leisure services and supporting local community organisations.


These regional commissions, would be elected by STV from multi member area, using the existing unitary authorities as the electoral areas as far as possible. I opt for direct election because I believe that nomination by another body, such as the existing unitary authorities would create split loyalties and increase the power of patronage for local government leaders. Direct election would give greater democratic legitimacy. The commissions would follow a committee structure, with 10 elected members and 5 members nominated as experts in the field, ie the Health Committee would have 5 co-opted members from the health service. Co-opted members would be voting members. Each subject committee would have a lead member, the lead members would in turn form a cabinet, which would be a co-ordinating and policy body. In addition to the subject committees there would be a number of committees, such as audit and budget. Membership of the committees would be voted on by the membership of the commission its self, by stv. The commission will meet annually to agree a budget, and monthly to approve the policy decisions of the committees and question lead members.


I would envisage the main subject committees mirroring the main areas of responsibility:

  • Health
  • Education (including further but not Higher Education)
  • Waste Disposal/recycling
  • Transport, including trunk roads but not designated Motorways and Motorway class roads.


  • Strategic Planning and Economic Development


  • Policing


  • Fire and Civil Defence


Regional Commissioners would be full time and paid elected officials, they would be paid on a scale set by the same body that sets AMs pay, and there would be special allowances for chairs and lead members. The co-opted members would receive payment based on attendance, again at a rate set by the AMs pay body.

The regions would be:

The North

Comprising the unitary authorities of Ynys Mon, Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbighshire, Wrexham, Flintshire, I would also split Montgomeryshire from Powys, creating a new unitary/most purpose authrority and add it to the new Northern Regional Commission. The new commissions would have be elected as follows:




















County Population Commissioners
Ynys Mon 68592 3
Gwynedd 119007 6
Conwy 110863 5
Denbighshire 96731 5
Wrexham
133559 6
Flintshire
149709 7
Montgomeryshire 63300 (estimated 2010) 3
Total 684791 35

Deheubarth

Comprising the unitary authorites of Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Brecon & Radnor (from Powys). The new Deheubarth Commission would be elected as follows:



















County Population Commissioners
Ceredigion 76938 5
Pembrokeshire 117086 8
Carmarthen
102417 (estimated)
7
Llanelli 78300 (estimated) 5
Brecon & Radnorshire 68013 (estimated) 5
Total 442815 30

Swansea Bay

Comprising the unitary authorities of Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Brigend. The new Swansea Bay Commission would be elected as follows:


County Population Commissioners
Bridgend 134564 8
Neath 72543 4
Port Talbot 64770 4
Swansea Gower 96364 6
Swansea Tawe 134943 8
Total 504457 30

East Glamorgan

Comprising the Unitary Authorities of Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Taff Ely, Merthyr & Cynon Valleys. I would take the Cynon Valley from Rhondda Cynon Taff and merge with Merthyr Tydfil to make two new Unitary Authorities. The East Glamorgan Commission would be elected as follows:


County Population Commissioners
Cardiff South West 113836 6
Cardiff North Central 125758 7
Cardiff South East 96442 5
Vale of Glamorgan 124976 7
Rhondda 85118 5
Taff Ely 96791 5
Merthyr 55699 3
Cynon Valley 58047 3
Total 756038 41


Gwent

Comprising the Unitary Authorities of Newport, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Caerffili. The Gwent Commission would be elected as follows:


County Population Commissioners
Newport East 65459 4
Newport West 74896 5
Monmouthshire 88089 5
Torfaen 90533 6
Blaenau Gwent 68368 4
Caerffili 83306 5
Islwyn 89431 6
Total 561420 35

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Where now for Plaid part 2.

Well the election has come and gone, Labour have half the seats and probably will hold on to that position for the next 5 years.   Plaid have slid back to third position in the lottery that is the National Assembly electoral system, but firmly in third place in terms of the votes.

What next?   It has been clear since the election just how much the drive for greater powers for the people of Wales was provided by the presence of Plaid in the Welsh Government.   Labour's equivocation on taxation and is belated requests for greater powers over the planning of energy generation prove it.  There are those that call for a swift return of Plaid to government - and I understand that.  Plaid was the convenient excuse used by those in Labour who believe that the interests of the people of Wales is best served by increasing the powers of our National Assembly, an excuse they could use on their more reluctant members.   However I think a quick return to government would be a mistake.  We aren't ready as yet.  While I do not feel that the election was the disaster that some paint, I feel that the party does need a period to regroup and reflect on where we went wrong.  Clearly a change of leader is now inevitable, and it needs to come within 18 months in my view.  The new leader will need time to bed themselves down and gain recognition.  Any longer and we will see what is perceived as a lame duck leadership become a serious impediment to our advancement.

Where we went wrong?  So difficult to say, a few hundred more votes in the right places would have seen us retain more seats, if on a lower vote than the last National Assembly elections..... but that way complacency lies.   We have to get our message out there - the message that independence is right for Wales and is the only way that Wales can recover.  As part of the British Union Wales is peripheral.  It is due to disinterested neglect rather than malice that we have consistently lost out economically and politically, we are just to small to matter and politically insignificant.    The only way we are ever going to improve the economy of Wales is if we are given the economic leavers, and that can only come from a much enhanced devolution settlement if not out right independence.   For the party to build  it will have to learn not to shy away from independence, not make it a distant political goal, but one central to our vision for the future, not in 5 years time maybe, but in 10 or 15 and no more - not at some point in the remote future.  We need to build on the Wales Can website and the ideas within it, we need to show each time how independence will benefit us.

It is quite likely that some of our votes will go as a result of this, but in the long run, if we make the case, and make it convincingly, then we will be offering people something genuinely different.  We will be offering a chance for us to take control of our own destiny, not because we are power mad separatists but because with the leavers in our hands we can build a better Wales.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Where now for Plaid?

Half a year to the next election and where next for Plaid?

A good question, maybe we should look at where they have been in the last few years?

Undoubtedly Plaid Ministers  have done well.  They have proven to be competent and have shined at their briefs, as much as the restrictions inherent in our devolution settlement allows.   They have also worked well with their Labour partners, we have seen none of the forecast tensions and fallouts predicted by the doom mongers.  Have they pushed a distinct Plaid line in government?  Well no, and they were not expected to.   All parties involved have pursued a common agenda, that laid out in the One Wales Agreement, which was a fusion of Plaid and Labour aspirations. 

So what next?  There will be no gentle disengagement between the ministers from the two parties over the next six months  - government has to continue, but I think we will see distinct platforms emerge.  These I suspect will be pushed more by party speakers rather than ministers. 

Labour think that they are in with a chance of a majority government, given a forecast collapse in the Lib Dem vote, so I think we can see them trying to rubbish Plaid in a way that they haven't for a few years.  

The Liberal Democrats are in a fix, their coalition with the Tories, although inevitable, seems to have put them in an impossible situation.  The Welsh Party dependent on English money can't sustain a full blown campaign and attack Westminster.  They have had to perform numerous 180 degree policy turn arounds to appease their Westminster colleagues and coalition partners.  Their distinct message has become blurred and the Assembly members in Cardiff Bay have become cheer leaders for the coalition at Westminster.   This is of course the fate of most junior partners in a coalition.  Plaid have been far better at handling this that the Lib Dems.

The Tories did well at the last Welsh election, piping Plaid for second in the regional list vote and just behind in the constituency vote.  There is a real danger that the collapse of the Lib Dem vote will see them as the principle beneficiary rather than Labour.  A hand full of votes in key seats or in regional lists will see the Tories over take Plaid for second place.   For them to succeed they have to blame the Welsh coalition for the cuts to be imposed due to Westminster spending cuts, and enough people have to be convinced of this for them to make gains.  Not an easy thing to do, but its doable.

So what do Plaid have to do to win votes?  First they have to be honest.  We are going to have a tough 4 years, the cuts are coming and they will hurt.  Front line services will suffer.  You can't just trim a few heads in agencies and expect that to be the cuts.  All sectors will be affected and tens of thousands will lose their jobs.  That is a bleak and uncompromising message to give, but it has to be the one that is given.   However any party standing on that platform alone will be slaughtered.  Together with this honesty Plaid will have to set out a stall which provides new Welsh solutions to service provision.  They have to move from cheeseparing and abandoning large chunks of service provision to investigating how services can be reorganised to provide the similar or better benefits, if not the exact same benefits.   This is where think different think Plaid will really come into play.  We need to engage the population in this, not just top down policy but sector by sector we need to involve the people in making these decisions.  I think that will be Plaid's USP, a real community effort, engaging people in forums, in conferences to map out how the range of services will be changed within the budgetary constraints. 

A true people's democracy.