The Anglesey Recovery Board was established by the WAG Local Government Minister in late 2009 - after the Auditor General's damning report into Anglesey County Council - to push through changes to governance at the council. Their latest report makes some very interesting reading. Here are some highlights:
"Mr Bowles reported on progress made by the Council and whilst substantial progress has been made in a number of areas in a short period of time, this has largely been through Mr Bowles adopting a "directive" leadership style and working exclusively though the 5 group leaders. Mr Bowles recognises that whilst this style has achieved pace it is not an appropriate way of building sustainability and therefore acknowledges it is now time to change his approach to become more engaging, in particular, with Members and Officers."
It is certainly true that David Bowles' style of "leadership" so far can be characterised as abrasive and often petty to say the least. Reading in between the lines of the above however I cannot help but wonder if Bowles himself "recognised" that his approach was not an "appropriate way of building sustainability" or whether he was told in no uncertain terms to change his style by the Recovery Board.
"Mr Bowles reported that progress within the Council continues to be positive and the overall mood is increasingly one of acceptance of the need to change but some Members are unfortunately still resentful of the past."
No doubt this is an oblique reference to Cllr Durkin's investigations into the actions of various Senior Officers. Personally my view is that Bowles has been too quick to "circle the wagons" and protect his Officers whilst simultaneously warning off Councillors from raising complaints against them through dubious tactics (such as threatening that complaining councillors may be forced to pay compensation to the council should an Officer allege bullying). Bowles actions regarding Monitoring Officer, Lynn Ball, is a case in point. Last month Bowles sent a strongly worded letter to all councillors informing them that a "qualified independent person" had conducted a thorough investigation into Ball's conduct and found her to have "in all cases … acted appropriately and professionally and with a high degree of competence and skill". It was left unsaid who the "qualified independent person" in fact was. Was he/she answerable to any authority other than Mr. Bowles or the Council? If not, could this affect the outcome of the investigation? There is no apparent reference to any formal report; we are simply left with an assertion that the complaints were without foundation, and so no means to verify the findings, or how they were arrived at. Of course just a a couple of weeks later it emerged that Miss Ball had in fact carried out work at her home in Gwalchmai without the necessary planning permission. A minor infringement perhaps, but considering her position and considering that she had apparently just been exonerated, it does not give us a lot of confidence in Bowles' "investigation". I would suggest that unless complaints by Councillors against Senior Officers are seen to be investigated fairly and impartially then there will always be an atmosphere of distrust between the two parties.
"[The WAG Local Government Minister] required all of the non-party groups within the council to produce a statement of their aims and values. The Menai Group has already done so, but the other two non-party groups are, we understand, working with the WLGA [Welsh Local Government Association] to complete this as soon as possible."
Hallelujah. This blog has long advocated the need for the various independent groupings (and individual councillors) to produce a manifesto of what they hope to achieve. I would be very interested to see what the Menai Group have come up with, but as neither of the other two groups (the Original Independents and Anglesey Forward) appear to have finalised theirs, this could be a good opportunity to present them with our own "Peoples Manifesto" when completed.
"[T]he new structures and processes now need to become fully owned, and mainstreamed into how the Council does business. This reflects David Bowles's broader point about the need to move from swift to sustainable change"
And this is the crux of the matter. As we finally established last week via Freedom of Information request, David Bowles is being paid over £160,000 a year to turn the Council around. Its true that some progress does seem to have been made, but unless he can ensure that it is sustainable in the long term even after he has left, then Bowles' salary will be a complete waste.
"During the meeting Cllr McGregor and Mr Bowles shared with the board their thoughts on the future appointment of a new permanent managing director for the Council. David's appointment runs until October 2010, but with an option to extend it for another year."
Unfortunately the actual thoughts on this matter of McGregor and Bowles go unreported.
"The National Archives (TNA) are moving to prohibit Anglesey County Council from maintaining an archive of public records, to close the archive that exists and move the records elsewhere (probably Gwynedd Council or Bangor University).
"This relates to what are seemingly chronic problems with the management of the service and in particular with the condition of the building which is currently used ... if the situation is unresolved, I and the Board are concerned about the repetitional damage it would cause the Council at what's already a difficult time"
The Druid has on occasion used the Archives service in Llangefni and has always been impressed by the helpfulness and great local knowledge of the Archives staff. However it is true that the building on Glanhwfa Road is a mess - yet it would surely be a disaster for local historians or people wishing to trace their family tree if the records were to be moved over the Bridge and off the Island. It seems strange that with the council currently sinking a small fortune (from the "Three Towns Fund") into converting the grand Llangefni Town Hall into offices for Menter Môn, that nobody ever thought of moving the Archives there.
"Our overall conclusion from this meeting is that the Council is capable of delivering many of the formal changes needed as a precondition for recovery. Its rapid response to the requirements … demonstrate that. However, it is far less clear that progress is as yet sustainable; and a key question for the Board to consider in relation to this is 'what is a successful recovery?'"
Once you get over the shock that the "Recovery Board" doesn't know "what is a successful recovery", I suppose we should just be grateful that they are honest about it.
Anyway, read the whole report below:
IoACC Recovery Board 6th Meeting Minutes