Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Recovery Board to Anglesey Councillors: "we want to say that the Council has recovered itself"

Elan Closs Stephens, the chair of the Anglesey Recovery Board, has used the occasion of the first anniversary of its formation to write to all IoACC councillors to set out the Board's assessment of progress to date. Here are the key passages and my comments:

"Since last summer the Council has made some real progress, particularly in reforming its political structures, tackling instances of poor member behaviour and improving public engagement."

This statement is interesting in many ways. In mentioning progress on tackling "instances of poor member behaviour" it shows that the Board, despite previous claims to be neutral on the issue, tacitly approves of the expulsion of various councillors from the then Original Independents. The comment referring to progress in "reforming its political structures" is puzzling. Political structures must refer to the various political groupings within the council, and possibly to the fact that they have now produced 'statements of aims and values' as they were required to do by the Board. However, as I noted yesterday, there is little point in them doing this unless they then make them publicly available -- something all of them apart from Llais i Fôn have avoided doing despite numerous requests from this blog.

"We have seen some tangible benefits of this in practice, and of members contributing fully and effectively to the business of the council and the challenges that the island faces"

The significance of this statement of course is that it implies previously councillors (total salary & expenses: £760,935) were not engaging with the challenges the island faces...

"However, we believe that recovery remains fragile and that we cannot say it is completely sustainable for the future."

So clearly not all good news then. And theres more, much more:

"[The Recovery Board] were less convinced that members fully appreciated the general and strategic purpose of their role as Councillor. It is this corporate and strategic role that will have to be developed as Anglesey faces the challenge of one of the worst recessions in living memory."

This is also a strange statement insomuch that it implies that many councillors either don't realise or don't appreciate that is they as elected representatives of their ward constituents who are supposed to be setting the strategic direction of the council -- not the officers. As it has been known for some time that there has been tension between councillors and officers at IoACC, this might suggest the reason why. It might also reveal the reason why councillors and non-party groupings have not thought it necessary to produce manifestos until now...

"We have seen the Wales Audit Office draft Corporate Assessment report ... it identifies that the detrimental personality issues that were identified by the Auditor General for Wales last year still persist, if to a lesser extent. It sees only limited progress in strategic policy-making and in the management of human and financial resources, and continuing weaknesses in public accountability"

So after one year of the Recovery Board and numerous direct warnings from Carl Sargeant that the Council is in the 'last chance saloon', some councillors still thinks its a good idea to play personality politics. Regarding "limited progress in strategic policy-making" see my previous comment. I guess we will learn just how much the various groupings at the council have learned when we see how they engage with the Rhosneigr by-election.

"Overall, we agree with the WAO the progress towards recovery has been patchy and would probably not have been achieved without pressure from the Minister through his Board and the MD over the past year. This must be a strong concern given the severe challenges that Anglesey faces in the months and years ahead."

'Strong concern' is putting it mildly.

"I hope you will have recognised by now that the Board is on your side as you move towards recovery. We do not want to say that we have helped recover the Council. The Board wants to say that the Council has recovered itself."

I would say that the whole of Anglesey wants to see that too.

Read the whole letter below:
Recovery Board Letter to All Councillors 27 Sept 2010

UPDATE: I am grateful to The Great Councillini for labouriously typing out the whole letter again to generate the following 'wordle' of the contents:

click to enlarge

As Anon 12:56 rightly says, you have to look very hard to find the words "public" and "people"...


Anonymous said...

A contradiction in terms surely.

If having to breach the Human Rights Act, is the only way the council can achieved it's aims, need we say no more.

Anonymous said...

"improving public engagement?"

I suppose it's telling that (a) I've seen no evidence of this, and (b) the efforts made by IoACC to hold public meetings have been given the cold shoulder by most of us as a worthless exercise in making amends for past and continuing wrongs.

The Recovery Board is living in la-la land. It fails to recognise the culturally-ingrained factors that impinge on the Council and that will return in a moment once the Board and Bowles have said 'farewell'.

Does Closs-Stephens think we as the long-suffering tax payers of this island think we're going to buy such a glib message as the Council improved itself? No chance, Ma'am! Here's the deal: come back in 3 years' time and assess where IoACC stands. I'll put my own superb quality Parys Mountain coin on the line and predict we'll be in the midst of an almighty mess, bigger than anything we've seen yet.

Cynic? Realist!

Anonymous said...

Aha! A workshop! Points gained here will count towards the ultimate prize. An interesting move on the part of the Recovery Board.

I wonder what grasp a randomly-selected member of the Council would have of any given issue? I wonder how many will be consulting the public they claim, but most have so far failed, to represent, and how?

Anonymous said...

Any chance the Scribd documents scans could be of a smaller sizer in future? Anglesey's broadband is so rubbish in my neck of the woods that it takes 6 minutes to download that document today!

The Druid of Anglesey said...

Anon 11:49 - apologies, I'll scan at lower quality next time.

The Great Councillini said...

Thanks Druid. The reason I ask was a curiosity about the letter's contents as seen from a word cloud perspective. Through laboriously re-typing the whole thing out, here is what the excellent Wordle site yields about the Closs-Stephens letter:

Anonymous said...

Note that the word 'public' and 'people' doesn't feature at all!


Jarlath said...

The future of the Council is still no clearer, and whether we can wait another year before deciding to call it a day I’m not sure. The Council in the current form may never recover from it’s past legacy, especially if a minority of Councillors are unwilling it to let it do so.

I can only see one hope, and that is the appointment of a Chief Executive for the Council, who should be allowed to re-organise the Council’s management team, and enter into agreements with neighbouring Council to share some Directors and departments.

But you would need an exceptional candidate for the post, and considering the bad publicity that surrounds this Council, who in their right mind would even consider applying for the job.

Prometheuswrites said...

“Finally, I want to put on record that the maturity of debate and the financial understanding and strategic innovation shown at such a workshop will carry a lot of weight with the board ...” (Elan Closs Stephens)

Personally I feel that councillors demonstrating these qualities WHILE AT WORK in the Kremlin, would carry more weight than just at a workshop.

Maybe I’m expecting too much, but then again I’m not an academic.

Anonymous said...

Possibly views would be given more credence and carry more weight if they didn't contain unecessary SHOUTING and childish name calling like Kremlin etc.

Anonymous said...

If the cap fits, wear it.

Anonymous said...

We still await the outcome from the Adjudication Panel on Phil Fowlie, however here are some interesting facts:

Out of the 20 County/County Borough Councils in Wales, Anglesey County Council in 2009/10 had the second highest amount of complaints against councillors at 26, second only to Torfaen with 33.

Out of that 11 were not worthy of investigation, 9 were discontinued, 1 no evidence of breach, 3 were referred to the Adjudication panel and 2 were withdrawn.
That should tell us some about the Office/Councillor. Councillor/Councillor relationship at Anglesey County Council.

Anonymous said...

Take away those two ingredients and there is nothing actually said at 15 24 is there?

Jarlath said...

In a sense though Promethuswrites, that is part of the problem, being a Councillor is these days seen by some as a job, but it should not be. To be elected a Councillor, should be more than just a job, it should seen as an honour, a duty and they should remember that the public have bestowed on them their trust, that they will represent them fairly at the Council.

When you read statements such as “full time Councillor” makes you realise certain Councillors haven’t grasped this concept at all.

Insider said...

"Anglesey County Councillor suspended despite case being dismissed"

Cllr Aled Morris Jones now considering an appeal to the High Court. Watch this space.

TGC said...

"Anglesey County Council in 2009/10 had the second highest amount of complaints against councillors at 26"

I wonder who were the instigators of the complaints - the public, or officers?

"That should tell us some[thing] about the Office/Councillor. Councillor/Councillor relationship at Anglesey County Council."

It tells us a lot!

Anonymous said...

"Anglesey County Councillor suspended despite case being dismissed".

How can we expect Councillors and Officers to behave properly when we see the likes of the Adjudication panel, leading with such bad examples?

Anonymous said...

Officers and a councillor from Holyhead.

another anon said...

"Anglesey County Councillor suspended despite case being dismissed".

But that was not Cllr A.M Jones who was found by the APW to have breached the code of conduct. See below extract from APW decision report:

“2.2.1 Cllr Jones did not seek to challenge the findings of the Ombudsman’s report and accepted that he had breached the Council’s Code of Conduct at the meeting on 5 March 2009. In relation to the alleged breach on 27 March 2009, Cllr Jones said that he decided to chair the meeting because it enabled him to “redress the less than satisfactory events of the 5th of March Council meeting” and he had sought a second opinion from the Welsh Local Government Association.”

Anonymous said...

!...leading with such bad examples.."

or conversly ruling wisely and fairly.

Depend if they come down on your side or not at the end of the day. Pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

Read the Constitution.
As Chairman, Cllr, Aled Morris Jones, did nothing wrong at all.

another anon and me said...

“As Chairman, Cllr, Aled Morris Jones, did nothing wrong at all.”

I disagree; I suggest you read the APW decision report that concluded:

“On the basis of the findings of fact, the Case Tribunal found by a unanimous decision that there was a failure to comply with the Council’s code of conduct at both meetings.”

Even Cllr AM Jones (see above comment) accepted that in the case of the first meeting he had breached the code of conduct. Seem to me someone needs to read the constitution again.

Anonymous said...

The Ombudsman dismissed one of the complaints, yet the Tribunal suspended him for two months for a complaint that did not exist,

Prometheuswrites said...

Anon 17.31

You are right.
Block capitals and sarcasm isn't the best way to make a point.

The point I was attempting to make is that 'maturity of debate, financial understanding and strategic innovation' are such important qualities that it would be desirable to see these qualities demonstrated (as the default practice) in the council chamber as well as in the workshop/training room.

My remark about academia was intended to mirror remarks made by many employers (and business institutions), that although students are graduating with good qualifications, these qualifications in themselves do not provide a sufficient indicator of the ability to transfer academic skills to the business domain.

TGC said...

Officers and a councillor from Holyhead."

As I thought. Politics is a rough game. These people should have more robustness of character than to go running to the authorities every time they get a bit upset.

"students are graduating with good qualifications, these qualifications in themselves do not provide a sufficient indicator of the ability"

Many students work very hard and get the grades they rightly deserve. Many of those are very capable in the world of work. However, it is no secret - and I can confirm from first-hand experience - that political and financial pressures upon higher education has led to a 'pass at any costs' policy where a degree, admittedly one that would be unlikely to impress any potential employer, will be awarded with pass marks as low as 25%. So, if there is a lowering of standards, it isn't really the students' fault; the government and the educational establishments are complicit in the whole thing.

The Red Flag said...

Prom & TGC, when I had my own business one of my part-time employees was a university student in the second year of her degree in Manchester. She was reading politics and regularly used to have to ask me - someone who left school at 17 in 1975 - questions about whether parties were left or right wing (including the big ones), what political stance the main newspapers were and things like that. I actually found it incredible that she didn't know. She wasn't even regiostered to vote.

Now bear in mind at that time we were about to invade Iraq, she had no idea why and rarely watched the news anyway. She had limited knowledge of who the main politicians were here and she kne who the US president was and virtually no knowledge about politicians anywhere else.

The following year, still not that much wiser, she got her degree and now works for an MP.

Prometheuswrites said...

TGC & Red Flag:

My comment was aimed at the myth of 'transferable skills'.

(That skills demonstrated in a workshop context can be transfered to another context - in this case the council chamber)

I have often thought that the notion of 'transferable skills' is a sleight of mind, used to justify the moving of senior politicians and 'respected' business leaders from one unrelated ministry or publically listed company to another.

To wit: Critical Thinking/Analysis is considered a transferable skill. Both Albert Einstein and Harold Pinter had recognised critical thinking abilities, but I don't believe that either could have done the job of the other.

The mistake is to consider the skill that has been developed to be transferable; whereas what is transferable is 'the skill of transfering skills from one context to another'

In your example Red Flag, your student had the skill of 'passing exams in politics' but did not have the skill of transfering political knowledge from one domain to another, nor it would seem the prerequiste knowledge/data that provides the basic foundation to enable one to do so.

Prometheuswrites said...

Red Flag:
"questions about whether parties were left or right wing (including the big ones)"

I have some sympathy with her confusion - 'New Labour' - left or right?


Symbolism or reality?

The Red Flag said...

Prometheus writes, she didn't have the necessary background knowledge to distinguish whether New Labour was left wing or right wing. She didn't even understand that by tradition, Labour was left wing and the tories right wing.

In case you were wondering whether she was actually taking the mickey, no she wasn't. She was actually a family friend.

I used to really struggle to understand how the hell she was even studying something that in actual fact she had no grasp of the basics. Didn't even understand Parliament, how it's organised and how it works.

Mind boggling.

Richard Sletzer said...

When the Anglesey Recovery Board embarked on its mission a year ago it said :-
"The Board will be paying particular attention to the role played by all the existing Groups and how they provide/do not provide corporate leadership"

Since then we seem to have heard little or nothing about what, if anything, the Recovery Board has concluded. As The Druid rightly points out, these groups have failed to inform the electorate what their policy positions are - a fundamental requirement for the restoration of democracy in Anglesey.

Anonymous said...

Richard Sletzer
"Since then we seem to have heard little or nothing about what , if anything, the Recovery Board has concluded"!

In her report to the Minister. March 11TH 2010, Prof Elan Closs-Stephens CBE concluded in regard to Conduct Issues. that, "The Leader of the Council(Clive McGregor)expelled two members, WHO HE FELT were obstructing the Council's recovery, from his ruling group".

(In one case). "The Board understands that this related to allegations about the Council's monitoring officer. We feel that the Leader's decision to remove the two members is commendable"!

Anonymous said...

Yes absolutely, the problem were the Councillors obstructing the Council’s recovery, and yes therefore removing those who where obstructing it’s recovery is very commendable.

Anonymous said...

But the only Councillor's obstructing the Council's recovery are still there which also includes Clive McGregor.

another anon and me said...

Nice try but no cigar, we are all aware of who the infamous obstructive councillors are, and Cllr McGregor is not one of them, irrespective of how often a certain grumpy and disowned Councillor says so.

Anonymous said...

anon and me
You've no idea have you.

another anon and me said...

You are right there mate, I have no idea of why the obstructive councillors continue on as they do.

P.S it’s another anon and me not anon and me.

Anonymous said...

Who are the Obstructive Councillor's and show your evidence?

another anon and me said...

You mean the "dysfunctional, back-stabbing councillors" mentioned in the Private Eye in their recent edition.