Considering the myriad problems currently facing Anglesey, the Druid - like all right thinking residents - wants to see Anglesey County Council function properly. However, having mulled over McGregor's new Alliance overnight, these are my first thoughts:
- When I first started writing this blog I very much saw what was happening at the Council in black and white terms. In other words I felt that although the majority of councillors were good, hard working people, there was a minority of troublemakers who were motivated by nothing more than petty in-fighting and vindictiveness. However, the more I learn from councillors, fellow residents, and commenters on this blog, the more it becomes apparent that things are never that simple. There may well be one or two councillors who are purely motivated by "past grievances and personal animosity"; but it is increasingly clear that there are also other councillors who, although singled out by the Executive as troublemakers, are not necessarily motivated by the wrong things. And this leads me to my biggest reservation about the Alliance's Terms of Engagement: it tries to divide councillors into purely 'good' and 'bad' camps - without recognising that not all resistance to the Executive and Senior Officers is necessarily driven by "past grievances and personal animosity".
- No council in the country is entirely free of wrongdoing by either councillors or officers (a quick read through Private Eye's regular "Rotten Boroughs" column will confirm this). I have seen sufficient evidence to support the strong suspicion that Anglesey County Council is no different. However, Bowles' strategy since arriving has been to unquestioningly defend his own officers against all allegations whilst taking a "no prisoners" approach to democratically elected councillors. This may well be due to his personal experience of having being hounded out of his previous post at Lincolnshire County Council by councillors there after he exposed the illegal activities of the then Leader of Council. However, considering that the basis of many of the problems which currently beset Anglesey County Council are caused by mistrust between councillors and officers, its difficult to see that Bowles' uneven approach will solve them in the long term.
- As the new Alliance is made up of councillors from all of the groupings and parties, it will be inherently unstable. Furthermore, particularly at this time of spending cuts, each different group will have wildly different views on the Informal Board's chosen 'strategic agenda' of "budgetary and efficiency issues, schools rationalisation, the future provision of leisure services, residential care for the elderly, Social Services, and matters relating to the economy of the Island". Accordingly we have to ask the questions "how long will it last?" and "what will happen if it fails?"
- I can't answer the first question, but the answer to the second is clear: should this Alliance fail, then the Welsh Assembly Government will have no choice but to take over the running of the Council directly from Cardiff. However, will they merely take a care-taking approach until the next set of local council elections? Or will they consider that the problems in IoACC are so deep-set that the only solution would be to merge IoACC into Gwynedd County Council? My guess is that WAG will plumb for the second option. As I personally believe that local government decision making should be made as close as possible to local communities, I do not want to see IoACC merge with Gwynedd County Council - yet I fear this new Alliance has taken us a step closer to this eventuality.
- Where is Ieuan Wyn Jones and Albert Owen in all of this? It is fair to say that both of them have fundamentally failed their electors by refusing to become involved in finding a solution to problems which have now beset the council for years. This is a sentiment echoed by many councillors too. Shame on both of them.
The final point I will add is in relation to point 3 in the Alliance's Terms of Engagement:
"Create a unified and unifying vision for the Island of Anglesey, through establishment of a sub-group with input from external stakeholders."
Now more than ever is the right time for us to push our Anglesey People's Manifesto, as contributed to by all commenters on this blog. The Second Draft will be published on this blog tomorrow.