Friday, 30 July 2010

Wales also needs a veto over large Council Tax rises

The Coalition Government has today announced plans to allow local voters in England to veto any Council Tax rise over an agreed ceiling set by Westminster. Personally I believe that this is a big step forward in both (a) incentivising Councils to deliver more cost-effective services and cut out wasteful practises by denying them of the 'easy option' of just nodding through large annual rises; and (b) making councils more accountable to the people they are supposed to serve. Apparently the Government will be asking the Welsh Assembly Government to also adopt this new measure - lets hope that WAG realises that the era of the 'nanny state knows best' is now over and also implements this proposal in Wales.

Click to Enlarge

Incidentally this year the Council Tax bill for Anglesey rose by a record 4.5% (one of the largest rises in the UK) - although the average Band D bill on the Island remains slightly below the Wales average at £1,054.92. The reason for the large rise was mostly because of the generally derisory local authority settlement increases from the Welsh Assembly Government for many councils in North Wales compared to those in South Wales. For example both Anglesey and Conwy councils received a rise of just 1% from the Welsh Assembly Government compared to rises of 3.1% for Newport and 2.9% for Cardiff City in South Wales. These WAG settlements are determined by some formula which takes into account the various demographics of each area, but there is obviously something wrong with this calculation when the poorest county in the UK, Anglesey, had to negotiate a floor of 1% or it would have received even less. Why isn't Ieuan Wyn Jones fighting harder for his 'home' seat in the Welsh Assembly? 

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Can Holyhead learn from Liverpool?

Holyhead Town Centre: terminal decline?
Last week we looked at some policy ideas which might help Anglesey have the best of both worlds: vibrant, profitable town centres AND the choice and convenience of out-of-town superstores. However, the problem with our proposed solution is that it is already too late to implement because most of Anglesey's major towns already have a variety of large out/edge-of-town superstores whilst shops in town centres are already in desperate decline. Its clear therefore that we need solutions which are more suitable for reviving our already suffering high streets - and nowhere is that needed more on Anglesey than in Holyhead where at least 40 per cent of town centre shops appear to be currently derelict.

Liverpool One: a shopping mall integrated into the City Centre
The Druid thinks that a possible solution might lie in another not-so-far-away port town: Liverpool. Not so long ago Liverpool's town centre - like many other parts of the city - was also suffering from gradual decline with unkempt and unattractive streets, a dwindling number of shops, and gradually less and less shoppers. All of these factors made the city centre unappealing to new high quality retailers and the opening of the Trafford Centre outside Manchester sucked up all the regional shopping business. Clearly building a similar self-contained shopping mall on the outskirts of Liverpool would further exasperate the problems in the city centre, therefore Liverpool City Council embarked on an astoundingly radical plan called the Paradise Project. Centred around Paradise Street, a satellite street from the city centre, Liverpool City Council redeveloped a staggering 42 acres of land and essentially constructed an open air shopping mall similar in scale to the Trafford Centre, but one which was located in the heart of the city and which seamlessly integrated into the city centre itself. Liverpool One, as it is called, is now completed and is composed of 30 buildings, 160 shops, more than 500 apartments and two hotels. Since its completion, not only Liverpool One but the rest of the town centre too has seen a marked increase in the numbers of shoppers and the opening of new shops.

Could such a scheme revive Holyhead's fortunes? With over two million travellers passing through the ferry-port every year there is certainly a potentially attractive market in Holyhead which could be tapped to possibly make such a scheme viable. The pedestrian bridge from the port to the town centre already exists - the problem is that there is nothing attractive there to tempt visitors. However with a very large number of shops on Market Street currently closed, is there an opportunity for Anglesey County Council to work with a private developer to purchase a large chunk of Market Street, adjacent to the pedestrian bridge, and redevelop it along the lines of Liverpool One? Private developers have shown an interest in building a retail village on Anglesey previously (notably at Tŷ Mawr), so why can one not be built which is actually integrated into the High Street of Anglesey's largest town, rather than in an out-of-town location where it would just further cannibalise local businesses? Liverpool One cost in total £920 million to develop - thats a huge sum of money, but according to the blurb in the Holyhead Forward plan, they have already spent £67million in Holyhead between 2003-06 with no discernible improvement to the town centre at all - arguably it is worse now than previously. I know there are no doubt lots of reasons why it can't be done - but surely the time has come for some radical, new thinking in Holyhead? The truth is that all the brand workshops in the world will not save Holyhead unless we stop doing what we have always done and instead try something completely different. As always I look forward to your learned comments.


P.S. I will be away for the next couple of days so blogging may be light.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

A huge blow to Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru's John Dixon is not a household name in Wales (unless you live in Carmarthenshire where he has stood for election several times) but he is the Plaid politician the Druid respects most. In a party which seems to have increasing lost its way, Dixon has stood out during his eight years as Plaid Cymru's National Chair for his economic-literacy, intelligence and wonkishness. His blogposts (for he is also a blogger) are the very model of calm, fair-minded contemplation and a joy to read (even if I don't agree with everything he says). However, he has this week used his blog to announce the very bad news that he has decided to resign as Plaid's National Chair, writing:

"But it isn't as simple as just [personal reasons] and it would be dishonest of me to pretend that it is; there are some significant political reasons as well. There are a number of ways in which I feel that the party has moved, or is moving, in a direction which I cannot support, but being a national office-holder has fettered my freedom to say so."

To my mind this admission from Plaid's own Chairman that the party is moving in the wrong direction is quite a bombshell and one that needs to be heeded by both its senior figures and rank and file. Indeed Dixon's resignation caps what has been a fairly disastrous couple of weeks for Plaid Cymru, featuring Ieuan Wyn Jones's announcement of the much derided and anti-small business Economic Renewal Programme (which tellingly Dixon damns with very faint praise in his blog) along with the scrapping of International Business Wales, which it turns out had actually been doing a great job of bringing investment into Wales.

It is easy to say that John Dixon's resignation is a big loss to Plaid Cymru - indeed it is. However, I would go further than that and say it is also a loss to Wales as a whole. Like it or not Plaid Cymru is a government coalition partner in the Welsh Assembly and will be a part of our national political life for a long time to come - accordingly we need it to be staffed by clever intelligent people like Dixon or we will all suffer in the long term.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Bowles: Anglesey Council was "teetering dangerously" close to Assembly takeover last month

Although the context is not clear, there is an interesting interview of sorts with Anglesey County Council interim MD, David Bowles, in today's Daily Post in which he makes some interesting comments:

  • The recovery is fragile but the Council is now more stable than it was 12 months ago
  • Apparently Anglesey Council was "teetering dangerously" close to an Assembly take over last month, presumably in the days immediately leading up to and after the formation of the new Alliance;
  • Since taking up the post last year, Bowles has been handed 18 allegations against members and officers yet every single one of them was "unsubstantiated". Bowles states: "There has been nothing of substance in any of the cases. These malicious allegations are corrosive and damaging. They give a perception of corruption". Forgive my cynicism but can there really be that much smoke without even a little tiny bit of fire? I personally feel that the healing process the Council needs to go through both internally and with the wider Anglesey public would be better served if at least one allegation of wrongdoing was symbolically followed through in a public manner.
  • If the Alliance fails forcing the Welsh Assembly Government to send in Commissioners then the independence of the Council could be lost forever as the Assembly would probably seek to reduce the total number of local authorities in Wales, meaning Anglesey would be once again absorbed into a greater Gwynedd County Council.
  • Bowles says if this happens " it would be a huge shame for Anglesey if it lost its council. If the council was lost then the island’s voice would be lost in a bigger authority. This would not be good for the people of Anglesey, everyone would suffer". I completely agree.
  • As is known from the FoI request into Bowles' salary, he is on a one year contract with an option to extend for a second year. In his interview with the Daily Post Bowles states he is committed to assisting Anglesey for two years "although the second year may not be as MD". One can only assume from these remarks that the Welsh Assembly - which will continue to appoint the MD until after the next local elections in 2011 - are planning to appoint a more permanent MD sometime over the next months and have Bowles remain as advisor and mentor to him for all or a portion of Bowles second year. Presumably Anglesey tax payers will then be paying the salary of two MDs...

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Low flying jets have damaged Elfyn Llwyd's judgement - not his hearing (updated)

Fresh from praising his comic timing yesterday, its disappointing to see that Elfyn Llwyd has stepped up his campaign to ban the RAF from conducting low-fly training in Snowdonia by now claiming that the aircraft sorties are damaging some of his resident's hearing.

A cursory Google search reveals that technicians working on Hawk training aircraft (the planes used at RAF Valley) are exposed to noises ranging between between 93 and 108 dB -- and presumably they are standing a lot closer to the aircraft than people being flown over at super-sonic speeds in Meirionnydd. For comparison purposes the noise generated by a chainsaw is around 100 dB (which would require a continuous exposure of over two hours for a risk of hearing damage to develop), a football game in a loud stadium can generate 115 dB (risk of hearing damage after 15 minutes), and rock concerts and some MP3 players generate volumes in excess of 120 dB (risk of hearing damage after just 7.5 minutes). Strangely enough despite this Llwyd is not on record calling for the Radio 1 Big Weekend in Bangor to be banned to protect his constituent's hearing.

I would have a lot more respect for CND supporter Llwyd if he would just admit that he wants to see an end to low-fly jet training - not because of the spurious argument that it may damage his resident's hearing - but because he does not want British military bases on Welsh soil. As we all know RAF Valley is one of the last large employers and investors on Anglesey - so will Anglesey AM and Leader of Plaid Cymru, Ieuan Wyn Jones, speak up for his constituency against his colleague? I, for one, will not be holding my breath...

UPDATE: I note that Plaid now has a press release about this matter up on their home page so I can only conclude that pressuring the Ministry of Defence to dramatically reduce the amount of training it can carry out from RAF Valley is now official Plaid Cymru policy. As it is also official Plaid policy to oppose nuclear energy in Wales, the party our AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones, now wants to forcibly close both of the only remaining large-scale employers on the Island. God help us!

Ieuan Wyn Jones: another four years?

Just days after Ieuan Wyn Jones unveiled the flawed and anti-small business Economic Renewal Programme, an internal audit of his own Department for the Economy and Transport (DET) has now raised "significant concerns" about the way the department is run, and further warns that there is significant risk of "loss, fraud, impropriety, poor value for money, a failure to achieve objectives". Questioned by the BBC about the report's findings, all IWJ could say with considerable understatement is that "some shortcomings have been identified". Proof -- if any more was needed -- that Ieuan Wyn Jones is stretching himself far too thinly over four different jobs (Deputy First Minister, Minister for Economy and Transport, Leader of Plaid Cymru, and Anglesey AM), and all of them are suffering as a consequence. This a significant issue to us in Anglesey as it is becoming clearer and clearer that IWJ's job load is compromising his ability to give us a much needed and dedicated voice in Cardiff Bay.

Which leads me to this crucial question: Is Ieuan Wyn Jones really the man to lead Ynys Môn out of its current economic mess? He has now represented the Island as either MP or AM for 25 years and yet we are, according to the Office for National Statistics, officially the poorest place in the UK; by definition that means things can't be any worse - or at the very least they have not improved during IWJ's 25 years as our representative. So if Ieuan Wyn Jones hasn't managed to turn things around on Anglesey after quarter of a century, does anyone seriously believe that given yet another term at next year's Assembly elections that he will be able to do so?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Quote of the Day

The best line in Today's PMQs, delivered with exquisite comic timing, came from Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP, Plaid's Elfyn Llwyd:

"In his keynote Guardian interview on the 10th of July, the Deputy Prime Minister said, 'I am a revolutionary... but I'm also a pragmatist.' When he suddenly agreed to raise VAT was he being a revolutionary pragmatist, or pragmatic revolutionary?"

Watch it here (fast forward to around 22 mins 18 seconds in).

(Declaration of interest: The Druid has had a soft spot for Llwyd ever since this incident).

Holyhead & Anglesey Mail boosts People's Manifesto

The People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn received a large and timely boost today thanks to the Holyhead & Anglesey Mail devoting half a page of coverage to it (even publishing an old snapshot of your humble Druid).

To any new readers who are visiting this site for the first time thanks to the Mail article, please do download the complete People's Manifesto by clicking on the 'download button' on the right of this post. If you agree broadly with the measures contained within it, then do get in touch with your local councillor and ask him or her to support it.

I think this coverage also presents a good opportunity to remind readers new and old of the response the Manifesto has received so far:

  • An email from Council Leader, Clive McGregor, stating that the People's Manifesto is "essential reading for all us councillors"
  • An email from Anglesey MP Albert Owen promising a full response shortly (to be published here as soon as it arrives)
  • A full line-by-line response from Labour County Councillor for Holyhead Town, Cliff Everett
  • A reply from Cllr Ieuan Williams of the Original Independents group promising to discuss the Manifesto at their next group meeting
  • Over 65 downloads of the People's Manifesto since this Monday alone

All of these people should be congratulated for making the effort to get in touch swiftly and let us know their thoughts on the document. It is just as important to highlight those major council groups and elected representatives who have chosen not to engage openly with the Manifesto or the large number of Anglesey residents who helped produce it:

  • Plaid Cymru
  • The Menai Group
  • Gareth Winston Roberts' "Anglesey Forward" Group
  • And of course our AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones - his lack of response is especially curious considering he is the Leader of a party which prides itself on being "local champions" who will "stand up for the needs and aspirations of the people they have been elected to represent"...

Its not too late - we are still waiting to hear from you all...

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

An Anglesey True Story.

News reaches the Druid of a local Anglesey man who was on the verge of being evicted from his home for falling behind with his mortgage repayments. In search of advice he went to see his trusted local County Councillor - a long-serving and well known Anglesey personage. The Councillor enquired as to how much the man's house was worth (£80K) and how much was his outstanding loan (£45K). The Councillor, a man of property, then donned his opportunist hat, bought the property for £45K and allowed his constituent to stay on as a tenant.

Is this mystery Councillor merely being benevolent? Or is he using his public position for personal gain by taking advantage of a down on his luck constituent?

Note: Do not post any names in comments - they will be deleted.

Monday, 19 July 2010

A smarter way to balance out-of-town superstores and support our Town Centre shops? (Updated)

On Friday, following Cllr Cliff Everett's comments about Holyhead Retail Park, I asserted that out-of-town superstores are effectively "hollowing out" Anglesey's town centres and that the Island needs a more savvy economic development / planning policy which finds a balance between the greater choices and cheaper prices which national out-of-town retailers bring on the one hand, and supporting local shops and businesses in the town centres on the other. One of the pleasures of writing a blog like this is the great ideas which sometimes emerge from comments - one such gem is the following idea to sustain town centres whilst at the same time allowing edge-of-town or out-of-town retailers. Like all good ideas it has the virtue of simplicity and would presumably be easy to implement given some direction and political will in the Council.

Based on the same principle applied to felling trees that if you chop one down you should plant a new one, the idea is that national retailers should only be given planning permission to build superstores on the edge of our towns on the condition that for the duration that they operate from that location they also rent out at least one empty town centre shop, refurbish it, and then sub-lease it on to a local business at a certain percentage below the average rent in the town (i.e. similar to the Council's current Affordable Homes policy of capping house resale prices at a certain percentage below the value of the property). I would further finesse the idea by:
  1. applying it to only to certain sectors (in particular supermarkets) which generally tend to take business away from town centre shops.
  2. requiring that superstores over a certain threshold lease town centre retail space not less than, for example, 5% of their  total out-of-town floorspace - therefore an exceptionally large out-of-town retailer maybe required to lease more than one town centre shop.
As the retailer should recoup the majority - but not all - of its costs through sub-leasing the town centre premises, these conditions would not be overly onerous compared to the large profits out-of-town superstores can generate.

In this way we could keep our town centres vibrant, promote new local small businesses and also enjoy the convenience and choice brought by out-of-town superstores. What do you think? Can you see any reasons why such a scheme may be unviable? Perhaps you have other, better ideas? Unfortunately it may already be too late to save some of our town centres...

UPDATE: With reference to this post the County Councillor for Holyhead Town, Cliff Everett, writes in once again to say:
"a very interesting concept you have posted re town centres, I think its worth investigating further via section 106 agreements, I would say that when Morrisons applied to come on the retail park in Holyhead, I asked for planning gain for the town centre and they agreed to pay for free parking for 3 years in one of the town centre car parks, this now applies to lower hill street car park for the first hour, I also asked for planning gain for play areas in Holyhead again it was agreed and £26k was donated to the town council for play area improvements."
Its tremendous to see that there are some Councillors who are open to engaging with Anglesey residents in this way - its also good to hear that he has obtained some benefit for Holyhead's Town Centre from Morrisons in the form of free car parking and a play area. Happily, Cliff also promises to pass on this idea to John Chorlton, the new Planning portfolio holder.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

What IWJ's Economic Renewal Programme means for Anglesey (Updated)

Following the recent closures of a large chunk of Anglesey's large private sector employers (Anglesey Aluminium, Eaton Electric, Peboc, Menai Electrical, Octel, etc.), it has become clearer than ever that Anglesey's economic fortunes rest with its small businesses. Indeed this point was explicitly addressed in our People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn:
"the Council needs to recognise that the Island’s economic future rests on promoting and supporting multitudes of small businesses - not just one or two large employers. Accordingly the Council must: (a) avoid supporting developments which merely contribute to the cannibalisation of sales from existing small businesses and shops; (b) prioritise reducing the bureaucracy and costs involved in running small businesses on the Island; (c) provide meaningful and high-quality support to encourage both the growth of existing small businesses and the establishment of new ventures."

It is therefore disappointing in the extreme that Ieuan Wyn Jones - Anglesey's AM and Deputy First Minister - has recently announced changes to the way WAG supports the Welsh economy which will in effect do exactly the opposite, i.e. support a few large employers in Wales at the expense of the multitudes of small businesses. As Dylan Jones-Evans notes in his Daily Post column, research clearly shows that companies of less than five years old (which naturally tend to be SMEs) create the vast majority of new jobs, therefore it is clear that a country such as Wales which suffers from an under-developed private sector should strategically focus on providing support to its small businesses as a way of growing the number of private sector jobs.

Unfortunately the WAG's new Economic Renewal Programme (ERP) will shift half of the resources in the £100m Single Investment Fund (i.e. the WAG's central funding 'pot' for business support) to infrastructure projects (such as delivering 'next generation' broadband throughout Wales - not likely to be provided by SMEs), thus halving the amount of repayable loan capital actually available to small businesses. Furthermore, the ERP then proposes to focus the remaining funds on supporting just six 'key sectors':

  • Creative industries
  • Information Communication Technologies
  • Energy and Environment
  • Advanced material and manufacturing
  • Life Sciences
  • Financial and Professional services

Firstly, these sectors are mostly dominated by large companies. Secondly, the WAG press release breathlessly describes them as sectors where "Wales has clear advantages for growth". Really? They sound pretty much like those fields which every other government in the World is keen on growing - what 'clear advantages' does Wales realistically have in any of them? Of course I'm not saying that these businesses shouldn't be supported, just not at the expense of cutting off ALL support to other fast growing small businesses which just happen to be in not quite so fashionable sectors.

Anglesey happens to have a large proportion of small businesses in the sectors of Agriculture (Hooton's, Halen Môn, Morgan Evans, etc) and Tourism (the Sea Zoo, various holiday cottages, etc) - none of these businesses, or ones like them, will now be eligible to receive WAG support because of IWJ's changes. Small Businesses in these and other non-supported sectors are the backbone of the Anglesey economy and Anglesey's AM has just abandoned them. 

UPDATE: Well known local businessman Glyn Pritchard-Jones leaves a comment below giving an insiders' account of Ieuan Wyn Jones's complete lack of engagement with his own constituency - even when the possibility of 250 new jobs for the Island is served up on a plate:
"Last September I brought a company up from London to Anglesey and we met with IWJ / Brynle Williams (because i wanted to keep IWJ on his toes!) and the local posse. Suffice to say the company is cutting edge / clean technology. The opportunity would be to manufacture in Holyhead and jobs created anticipated as 250 plus. The proposal is currently being love-bombed from different countries and IWJ/WAG/DEIN have been unable to assist. When I am able to, I will provide details of the company when my NDA is released however its' embarrasing that after all the effort made; locally its all talk and no action because WAG is financially embarrassed and somewhat clueless. Why is IWJ simply unable to deliver the goods??"
Considering the recent large scale job losses on the Island I would have hoped that our AM would have been chomping at the bit to secure a golden opportunity like this for his constituency. Glyn rightly asks "why is IWJ simply unable to deliver the goods"? My guess is because Ieuan Wyn currently has four jobs (Deputy First Minister, Minister for Economy and Transport, Leader of Plaid Cymru, and Anglesey AM) - which is at least three jobs more than he is capable of. As officially the poorest sub-region in the UK, Ynys Môn can no longer afford the luxury of an AM who's first priority is not looking after his own constituency.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Original Independents get in touch.

Cllr Ieuan Williams from the Original Independents has now also got in touch:

---------- Original message ----------
From: IEUAN WILLIAMS 
Date: Fri, Jul 16, 2010 at 1:27 PM
Subject: Re: A People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn
Diolch am y maniffesto a'r holl waith sydd wedi mynd i'w gynhyrchu. Mi fyddaf yn ei drafod efo gwedill aelodau y grwp annibynol gwreiddiol yn ein cyfarfod nesaf.
Thank you for the manifesto and the hard work that went into producing it. I'll be discussing it with the other members of the original independents group at our next meeting.

So now we are only waiting to hear from the Menai Group and Gareth Winston Robert's Anglesey Forward group. Oh, and IWJ too of course!

Friday, 16 July 2010

A closer look at Llais i Fôn and Cllr Everett's responses

I was going to write a critique of the Llais i Fôn manifesto today but one of my learned commenters has already written pretty much everything I was planning to say:

What's the strategy again? Change everything by the Nolan principles (very good start, but hardly something that should be put forward as new or surprising). Nolan first published his seven principles in 1995 - a year BEFORE the new-style IoACC came into being!! And then we have change the world by dialogue with the public.
Interesting, apart from when you read through to affordable housing - something of immediate urgency for our young people - you realise that dialogue and consultation very clearly fails to include the public who want and need that housing. So no change there, then.
This is the disease that afflicts this and many other Councils - a belief that they and their private partners know what's best for the people. Developers are only interested in their bottom line, so whilst they should be involved, they shouldn't be driving the agenda. Go to any meeting about housing, and you'll find planning staff on one side of the room, and developers on the other. The public seem by their absence to think they're not welcome, which is something the Council should address.
It's always exciting to say things like 'get things up to 21st century standards'. Actually, what is needed is simply a timeless dedication and commitment to a better local governance. We should also learn from other countries, whose 21st century standards often appear to be from the 23rd century, relative to ours.
Again on economic development, there is a revealing absence of the term 'small (and medium-sized) businesses'. Even the Chancellor will tell you these are the backbone of the economy. But they are completely ignored as a provider of potentially far more jobs than even Wylfa 'B' in the longer term. I find that very worrying, and it perpetuates the long-held Council belief in 'big solutions' that generate big headlines; these are only part of the answer, however attractive or obvious they might seem. 
Planning: it would have been nice to see some tacit acknowledgment of the very real concerns that people have about the unfair and inconsistent way planning is perceived to operate on Anglesey. But there is nothing, which may indicate more emphasis on protecting the department than addressing the problems within it. 
Governance: Accountability of councillors good to see. We would also like to see a '3 strikes and you're out' system for those councillors too busy with other matters to attend meetings they ought to be at.
In all, we of course genuinely welcome this move by Llais i Fôn. But the clue is in the name: A Voice for Anglesey. The people are its voice, and the Council is (or should be) its ear. I think this manifesto makes only very slow progress towards truly accepting the people as having an important, valid and legitimate part to play in forming the future of the Council and the island. 
However, once again, praise where praise is due: well done to the Llais i Fôn councillors for being the first to put together and distribute their manifesto! I hope all other groups will follow their lead and also forward their manifestos. It is the differences in policy between groups which I want to see - and it is those differences which will spark debate and strengthen local democracy on Anglesey.

Moving on to Cllr Everetts comments. Again well done to him for taking the time to engage openly and swiftly with the People's Manifesto. The only part of his reply with which I would take issue is this:

"Allowing supermarkets outside of our town centres has created a lot of employment, in my home town of Holyhead the retail park now employs over 600 people we should not forget that, and if you look at the size of just Morrison’s alone it would be impossible for that to be built in the town centre, and the community are calling for choice and these big named retailers to come to the Island, I have said for some time our towns need to diversify and target the tourism market more just like they have done in Conwy."

The retail park in Holyhead may well employ 600 people - but how many of those 600 jobs are new jobs and how many have simply been 'cannibalised' from existing local businesses? It is no secret that retail in Holyhead's town centre is in serious decline with large numbers of vacant shops and the rest mostly struggling to stay solvent; the same is true in Holyhead's satellite towns. There is no doubt that Holyhead's retail park is probably the prime reason behind this. Of course people do want the choice and cheaper prices which the large national retailers bring, but as an Island we need a more savvy economic development / planning policy which tries to find a balance between more choice on one hand and supporting local shops and businesses on the other. For example, can there be any justification whatsoever for allowing five supermarkets (Asda, Iceland, Lidl, Aldi, HomeBargains) to set up on the edge of Llangefni - a town with a population of less than 5,000 people? We also have to remember that local shops are actually small businesses run by local entrepreneurs who largely reinvest their profits locally by buying in goods and services from other local businesses - unlike the larger national retailers.

Which leads me on to a question for you all: why is it do you think that some of Anglesey's towns (Menai Bridge and Beaumaris in particular) have such thriving town centres full of local small shops, yet the centres of other towns on Anglesey (Holyhead, Llangefni, and Amlwch spring to mind) are slowly declining into irrelevance?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Clive McGregor: People's Manifesto "essential reading for all of us Councillors" (updated)

I'm pleased to report that the Council Leader Clive McGregor has responded quickly and positively to our People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn by saying that it "should make essential reading for all of us Councillors". Hear hear! You can read his full email below:

---------- Original message ----------
From: CLIVE McGREGOR 
Date: Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 4:01 PM
Subject: Manifesto prepared from submissions to the Druid's Web Site.

Thank you for forwarding the completed document The People's Manifesto for Anglesey. It is a very comprehensive document and should make essential reading for all of us Councillors. There are some matters contained therein which the County Council may not be in a position to implement having regard to the current economic situation that impacts upon Local Government.
As Leader of the County Council, I am more than happy to meet with a representation of the citizens who have produced the document.
Llais i Fon, the group that was formed a few weeks ago have been working on a manifesto, but were beaten to its publication by your document. Nevertheless I enclose a copy for your information, I think you will find it complementary to the People's Manifesto.
regards
Clive McGregor
Leader Anglesey County Council

As he says in his email, he has also provided the newly completed Llais i Fôn Manifesto, which you can read below:

Manifesto Llais i Fôn 13th july

Regardless of its contents (which I will analyse in full tomorrow), Clive McGregor and his group Llais i Fôn should be praised for distributing their manifesto -- and we should all recognise that this represents a big step forward for democracy in Anglesey. For the first time in Ynys Môn, residents will be able to vote in local elections for a set of specific policies rather than on just personalities as in the past. 

It is now incumbent on the Original Independents, Menai Group, and Anglesey Forward to also release their manifestos so that we can see what the real differences are between the Independent Groups. Furthermore, although they have not been required to do so by the Recovery Board, Plaid Cymru, Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems should also now follow suit and release a manifesto of policies specific to Anglesey.

Other responses to the People's Manifesto

In addition to Clive McGregor we have also heard from our MP, Albert Owen, and also Holyhead Labour Councillor, Cliff Everett -- both of whom to their credit got in touch promptly and promised to reply in full shortly. Those replies will be posted here as soon as they are received. No response whatsoever from any other groups or councillors yet - or from our AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones, who is no doubt far too busy with his other three jobs to find time to think about the constituency he represents.

A request to you all

Finally, the success of the People's manifesto - created by all of you commenters - rests on popular support on the Island. Therefore if you have not yet done so, please download it (click here) and email to everyone you know on Anglesey and ask them to do the same. Together we are going to improve this Island!
      
UPDATE: Labour's Cliff Everett (and Corporate Management portfolio holder in the new Alliance) has now also responded in full:


---------- Original message ----------
From: CLIFF EVERETT 
Date: Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 9:49 PM
Subject: Re: A People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn
Hi,
I would like to thank you and you fellow bloggers for the e-mail and the manifesto which I found very interesting and well put together and balanced in its views. I would like to respond with the following comments listed, I will not get involved with any personalities or name calling, and I’m happy for you to publish my comments on any public forum or blog.
In your introduction you refer to the annual audit letter 2009, at the time of that letter I was in the chair of the audit committee and as the record shows (copies of the minutes on the council web site) I worked hard to expose what was going on and provided the audit general team led by Mr Rod Alcott with a substantial amount of evidence, my final comments to him at the time was to call for some form of intervention, which we now know  has been done. It was pleasing to note in the Audit letter which you quote that the “majority of councillors are well motivated in their approach to council business and its important to recognise their contribution” 
You state that the council does not function, I would say that the vast majority of council employees work hard on behalf of the community and the problem lies mostly with us the council members, if we cant work together for the good of the island what kind of influence does that have on our staff.
As a labour member of the council I am disciplined by my party and indeed elected on the all Wales manifesto. Anglesey historically has never elected a political council and you’re correct it has always been controlled by independents with no real manifesto, that’s why I personally have called for an elected Mayor for the Island, with a manifesto which has the support of the majority via the ballot box this now has the support of our MP.
Our group recently agreed to form a new alliance to run the council but with stated aims and values, which we have all signed up for and has the support of our party, and we in the Labour group will be working hard to make this work on behalf of the community who we represent.
Unfortunately it saddens me to have to agree that the majority of your comments in your introduction are true.

COUNCIL MANAGEMENT.
Agree with most apart from the following,
•       Retire at 65 might be a breach of the Ageism Legislation
•       Council tax on the Island is still one of the lowest in Wales.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.
Agree with most apart from the following
•       Allowing supermarkets outside of our town centres has created a lot of employment, in my home town of Holyhead the retail park now employs over 600 people we should not forget that, and if you look at the size of just Morrison’s alone it would be impossible for that to be built in the town centre, and the community are calling for choice and these big named retailers to come to the Island, I have said for some time our towns need to diversify and target the tourism market more just like they have done in Conwy.
•       I think we are lucky to have a dedicated and professional team of officers in our Economic Department.
•       Consulting the business community on the 3 towns money is already going on in Holyhead I chair the panel in the town.
TOURISM.
 Totally agree.
HIGWAYS TRANSPORTATION
 Totally agree.
 PLANNING
I have not been a member of the Planning Committee for 10 years so I cannot comment.
HOUSING.
 Totally agree.
WYLFA B.
 Agree with most apart from the following.
•       We can’t use County Council monies to up-grade the A5025 if Wylfa B comes off that could be done as a planning condition via a section 106 agreement.
EDUCATION & LEISURE.
Agree with most apart from the following.
•       A full public consultation is carried out before any school is closed, the executive voted to close 2 recently as no objection to the closures where received.
 SOCIAL SERVICES.
•       Totally agree.
ENVIRONMENT AND PROPERTY.
Agree with most apart from the following.
•       I feel that the property section does what it can with the resources it has, the existing head is a dedicated professional.
PROCUREMENT
•       Totally agree.
CHARITABLE TRUST.
•       Totally agree.
PROVISION OF COUNCIL SERVICES
•       Totally agree.
TOWN IMPROVEMENT GRANTS.
•       Totally agree.

I have not responded in detail to some of the comments under each heading as it would be to long winded and might bore some people!! I would say that a number of issues you raise are being addressed now and will in the future that’s why I have indicated my agreement. I would like say that the vast majority of councillors on the Island are dedicated and work hard for the communities they represent, yes we have a very poor reputation now on the Island, the ones who are causing all the problems know who they are, I would suggest they take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves why they are behaving the way they are, and the voters on the island need to take a good long look at how their local councillor has behaved before they cast their vote in 2012, a lot of evidence is on record both inside the council and outside the council on how some have behaved !!!.
Many thanks Druid for the opportunity to respond.
Kind regards
Cllr C L Everett

Durkin's Black Swan?


Now that the Holyhead & Anglesey Mail has published the names of the protagonists in the Barrie Durkin "Tape-gate" controversy which I  wrote about last week (without naming names), I see no further need to hold back from identifying those concerned.

In essence Cllr Durkin claims to have have met with Cllr Bob Parry, leader of the Plaid Cymru group in Anglesey County Council and senior member of the new Alliance, in a car park in Llanerch-y-medd; during this meeting Durkin alleges that Parry encouraged him to investigate the the planning irregularities of Legal Services Director and Monitoring Officer, Lynn Ball, who lives near to Parry's ward of Bryngwran. Durkin further claims that he tape-recorded this conversation with Parry's knowledge. According to the Holyhead & Anglesey Mail Parry does not deny having met with Durkin in Llanerch-y-medd, but he says: "that was years ago and there certainly weren't any tape recorders about". Curiously the Mail does not press Parry to confirm or deny whether he did discuss Lynn Ball's planning irregularities with Durkin or not -- accordingly we are simply left with a big discussion regarding whether a tape of the conversation exists or not, rather than what was actually discussed at a meeting neither of them deny.

Anyway, does the tape exist or not? Durkin says it does but will not produce it "until I feel it's necessary and in my interest". Does Durkin's refusal to produce it prove that it doesn't exist? I hate to be get all philosophical about it, but here's what Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the celebrated author of "The Black Swan", has to say about 'negative empiricism':

"Seeing white swans does not confirm the nonexistence of black swans ... If I see a black swan I can certify that all swans are not white! If I see someone kill, then I can be practically certain that he is a criminal. If I don't see him kill, I cannot be certain that he is innocent. The same applies to cancer detection: the finding of a single malignant tumour proves that you have cancer, but the absence of such a finding cannot allow you to say with certainty that you are cancer-free."

I wonder if Clive McGregor and the members of Recovery Board are quite as philosophical about the whole affair? Anyway, I'll leave the last word to Cllr Peter Rogers who is completely accurate:

"It's quite appalling, if its true then Clive McGregor has no choice but to sack Bob, especially after Goronwy Parry was sacked for supporting him (Durkin). I don't know how much longer this can carry on before we get shut down".

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The future Viceroys of Anglesey?

As it appears that WAG Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, has privately asked the Members of the Anglesey Recovery Board to become Commissioners in the case that the new Alliance fails, its time to take a look at the CVs of our possible future Viceroys.

Peppered amongst the various Public Sector grandees who have somehow managed to cling on to the gravy train post-retirement, there are couple of very interesting characters here: notable Dr Zoë Radnor and Mel Usher. Both appear to have an impressive track record in bringing radical thinking to Local Government - exactly what Anglesey County Council needs. Prof. Closs Stephens, the Chair of the Recovery Board, also appears to be very capable - but one would question why someone who has spent her career specialising in Culture, Media and TV would be the obvious choice to advise on reforming a failing council...

Anyway, take a look for yourself:

Prof. Elan Closs Stephens CBE, chair of the Recovery Board

Professor of Communications and Creative Industries at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Theatre Film and Television. She also acts as Director of Enterprise and Knowledge Transfer to enable research projects with industry partners. She has a background in providing strategic leadership and support to cultural and media organisations.

In 1998, Elan became the Chair of the S4C Authority, a Department for Culture Media and Sport appointment that was renewed for a second term from 2002-2006. In 2006, she chaired the Stephens Report on the financing and structure of the arts in Wales for the Welsh Assembly Government.  She was a Governor of the British Film Institute until 2007 and Chair of its Audit and Governance during the recent major refurbishment of the Southbank National Film Theatre.  She has also chaired Chwarae Teg, a body that promotes the economic development of women.

Currently, she chairs the Wales Advisory Committee of the British Council where she was a main Board Trustee until 2008. She is a Board member of the Film Agency for Wales and a Trustee/Board member of Arts & Business UK.

Elan was born in Talysarn, in the Nantlle Valley, Gwynedd, educated at Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle . She was an Open Scholar at Somerville College, Oxford and the first woman to chair the Dafydd ap Gwilym Society. She married Dr Roy Stephens who died in 1989. She has two grown-up children. She received a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2001 for services to broadcasting and the Welsh Language. She is a fluent Welsh speaker.

Sue Essex

Labour politician and AM for Cardiff North from 1999 until she retired in 2007. During her time in the Welsh Assembly Government she was Minister for Finance, Local Government and Public Services from 2003-2007. Was Leader of Cardiff City Council at one point. She is 64 years old.

Bill Horne

Retired in June 2009 as Assistant Chief Constable, Gwent Police, after thirty years’ service as a police officer in the Gwent and Dyfed Powys forces.

Richard Parry Hughes

Farmer from the Llŷn peninsula and lifelong member of Plaid Cymru. Was a councillor at Gwynedd County Council from 1992 until 2008, during which time he served seven years as a deputy leader and was leader from 2003. He was also the spokesperson for the environment and planning to the Welsh Local Government Association for four years prior to 2008. He is now a member of the North Wales Police Authority. A fluent Welsh speaker.

Dr Zoë Radnor

Associate Professor at Warwick Business School. Radnor's research and publications are in the areas of performance measurement and management, improvement and innovation for both private and public sector. Zoe is currently a Management Practice Advanced Institute of Management (AIM) Fellow considering sustainability of Lean in public services. Previously, she has been Project Manager of a research project for the Scottish Executive which evaluated how 'lean' techniques were and could be used in the public sector. She has also led an evaluation of the implementation of Lean and associated techniques in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) as well as in three HealthCare organisations within one region. She is also leading a research project 'SLIM' which aims to develop a Strategic Lean Implementation Methodology for Hospitals.  Radnor presents, advises and sits on a number of boards and committees for organisations such as the Audit Commission, Welsh Assembly Government, Government Skills, HMRC, Local Authorities and HM Court Services.

Mel Usher

Usher has a rich background in local government, having worked in planning, urban regeneration and community development at Tower Hamlets, Islington, West Lancashire, Wigan, Blackburn and South Somerset - where we was Chief Executive for a time.

In the late 1990s Usher came up with the concept of an improvement agency for local government, which was taken up by the Local Government Association and in government circles, and was appointed the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA)’s first chief executive. During his three eventful years in charge of the agency, he helped to change the face of local government, championing peer review/learning, e-government, member and officer development and targeted assistance for failing authorities.

Over the last five years Usher has extended his skills, now trained in mediation and transactional analysis he has specialised in working at the highest levels in local government. Amongst many others he has helped to appoint chief executives or whole management teams in authorities as far apart as Sunderland and Somerset, North Norfolk and Carlisle and Swindon and Lincolnshire.

He has worked with top teams in London boroughs, metropolitan districts, unitaries and districts. He specialises in chief executive appraisals, mentoring members and senior staff, assisting politicians in determining new priorities and sorting out unique knotty problems for individual authorities.

Graham Williams

Former Chief Inspector of Social Services for Wales and Director of the NHS in Mid and West Wales. Graham retired as the Assembly Government’s Director of Social Services in July 2009. A fluent Welsh speaker.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

"The soap opera across the Menai Straits"

Last night's edition of BBC Radio Wales's "Eye on Wales" was devoted to looking at the problems facing Anglesey County Council one year on from the damning Wales Audit Office report - or the "soap opera across the Menai Straits" as they called it.

As per all programmes about Ynys Môn it includes the obligatory pseudo-Celtic, mystic-sounding music and comments about "voices from the past", etc. However, beyond the cliches, it also included some interesting information. For example the fact that the combined cost to the Anglesey council tax and business rates payer for the "recovery" (including David Bowles salary, the costs of the recovery board, etc.) is running at around £1 million a year... a staggering sum.

Steve Thomas, Chief Executive of the Wales Local Government Association, described what sets council politics in Anglesey apart from that in the rest of Wales:

"Whats unique about it is the visceral nature of it in Anglesey. While there are people in councils throughout Wales who undertake vigourous debate, it doesn't quite degenerate into the level of personality politics that occurs on Anglesey. So the result of that is that is not unique but the depth and level of the politics up there does have a special character."

Prof. Elan Closs Stephens, chairperson of the WAG appointed Anglesey Recovery Board, made it fairly clear that she wants to avoid having the council run by Commissioners from Cardiff:

"My view, and that of the Board, is that we haven't reached the commissioner stage. I think there is still a lot of good will, still a desire to get things resolved. Commissioner stages are very difficult stage for councils because what you are doing is stripping away not only the councillors from from their democratic elected rights, but your actually stripping the Island & the people of the Island from being democratically represented and thats a very serious thing. I wouldn't wish to go there if possible."

The strangest part of the programme, however, was quite a long section on the Bodffordd Biodigester controversy.  Bizarrely the BBC cites the Council's steadfast refusal to engage with huge local opposition regarding the plans to site a Methane Biodigester at Bodffordd as an example of the quality of the Council's services. Yes, you read that right: the fact that the council "didn't cut and run", as the BBC man put it, in the face of the local campaign against the plant apparently proves that the Council provides good services. Huh? Personally the Druid views the Council's decision to approve the siting of a Biodigester in Bodffordd as a prime example of the Council completely getting it wrong.

Anyway, you can listen to the whole programme on iPlayer here.

Monday, 12 July 2010

The People's Manifesto - sent!

The following email was sent out a short while ago to all Anglesey County Councillors, David Bowles, Prof. Elan Closs Stephens (Chairperson of the Anglesey Recovery Board), Ieuan Wyn Jones, Albert Owen, and a selection of key North Wales journalists:

---------- Original message ----------
From: People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn
Date: Mon, Jul 12, 2010 at 3:01 PM
Subject: A People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn
Attn:   Cllr Clive McGregor,
                     Leader of Isle of Anglesey County Council
          All Isle of Anglesey County Councillors
cc:     David Bowles,
                    Interim Managing Director, Isle of Anglesey County Council
          Prof. Elan Closs Stephens,
                    Chairperson, Anglesey Recovery Board
          Ieuan Wyn Jones, AM for Ynys Môn
          Albert Owen, MP for Ynys Môn
          News Editor, BBC North West Wales
          News Editor, Daily Post
          Elgan Hearn, Holyhead and Anglesey Mail
          Matt Warner, North Wales Chronicle

Dear Councillors,
Attached please find a copy of the People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn. This document is the result of an open experiment in 'wiki-government' and compiled from literally thousands of comments and suggestions posted by various Anglesey residents on The Druid Blog (www.druidsrevenge.blogspot.com). 
It is not party political (it was contributed to by people of all political persuasions) and can be seen as an honest attempt by concerned and frustrated Islanders to fill the policy void on Anglesey left by our elected representatives. Furthermore the production of this Manifesto did not involve any expensive consultants, nor has it taken endless reviews and years to finalise. From start to finish it took only a little over two months, an the only cost has been the time of the multitude of contributors on the blog.
As you work to finalise the 'Statements of Aims and Values' which all Council groups have now been required to produce by the WAG Local Government Minister, we urge you to use this document as both a resource and an indication of the demands of Anglesey voters. 
Best regards,
Anglesey Residents

You can view the finalised People's Manifesto below:

People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn

What you can do now:

  • Download the above People's Manifesto and email it to all the Anglesey residents you know. Ask them to do the same;
  • Contact your local Councillor and ask him or her to support this Manifesto (their contact details are contained on the last two pages of the Manifesto);
  • Contact our MP and AM and ask them to also support the People's Manifesto (their contact details are also contained in the Manifesto).

This People's Manifesto was only made possible thanks to all of you - the readers and commenters of this blog. Dioch yn fawr iawn i chi gyd.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Meetings in Cars and the effect of drip-drip allegations

As another week goes by there is no sign of the infighting at Anglesey County Council abating - in fact if anything it seems to be getting worse. Cllr Durkin, explicitly named and shamed in the new alliance's terms of engagement, stepped up his campaign to clear his name on Thursday by circulating an email to all councillors describing a undated meeting he had in a car with a fellow councillor (now a senior member of the new Alliance) who Durkin alleges encouraged him to investigate the planning irregularities of a senior council officer. To make matters worse Durkin furthermore alleges that this meeting was taped. The Druid has no idea if such a meeting actually took place or not, therefore in the interests of prudence I have redacted Cllr Durkin's email below (and I request that commenters do not post the names of the councillor and officer involved in comments):

----- Original Message -----
From: Barrie Durkin
To: [redacted]@ynysmon.gov.uk
Sent: Thursday, July 08, 2010 10:08 AM
Subject: Alligations against Cllr Durkin

[redacted],
It has been brought to my attention by a number of members including two of your own group, that you are being quite forward in attacking me on the subject of my raising concerns about various officers and other propertied Issus's. 
I find this quite disturbing considering it was you along with another who raised  the [redacted] planning issue to  me in the first place, showing  that [redacted] was giving some of your constituents the impression, that because [redacted]  worked for the council [redacted] could get away with not complying with planning conditions.
In fact  you will remember on another day we sat in your vehicle for the best part of an hour discussing a way forward, as the council had only covered the [redacted] issue up. We also talked about the bogus allegation against you which you accepted as malicious rubbish to try and undermine my credibility with you.
But in the main  the conversation bared more on pursuing your concerns over [redacted]'s house and encouraged me to re-kindle the issue, Yet you now abuse and help cause trouble for me because it appears to serve your personal agenda at the moment.
You will also remember, we both agreed for the avoidance of doubt, that our conversation should be recorded. which it was, I still have my copy, suffice to say, I find your abuse of me quite appalling considering I was only doing what you asked and encouraged me to do, as with Clive McGregor.
The tape recording is with my solicitors and will be used if necessary.
As you have abused my trust and taken to attacking me to other councillors, I will be copying this email to all.
Regards.
Cllr Barrie Durkin

Although the date of the alleged car meeting is not mentioned, if these allegations are true it clearly shows that there were (and may still be) deep and serious levels of mistrust between Councillors and Senior Officers, with even senior councillors in positions of leadership seeking to undermine certain Officers. The Druid has written before that Interim MD David Bowles' approach of unquestioningly protecting his Officers at all costs may actually be exacerbating rather than alleviating the situation - and the more drip-drip allegations like this that come out, the more likely that mutual mistrust will reach critical levels with terrible consequences for the Council.

Considering the above, it may come as no surprise that WAG Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, has already privately asked Recovery Board members to act as Commissioners to manage Anglesey County Council in the event that the Alliance fails. With "named-and-shamed" Councillors now waging all out warfare against the new Alliance's leadership in order to clear their name, how many more blows can the Alliance withstand?

Monday, 5 July 2010

WalesHome brings Anglesey to Wales

        
The excellent WalesHome.org has this morning picked up on my last post (and its comments) and in so doing brought the problems besetting us at Anglesey County Council to a much wider Welsh audience. The Druid has long believed that the single best remedy to the shenanigans going on in the Council Chamber in Llangefni is to simply throw some light onto the situation - which is what I have tried to do through this blog. Hopefully through regular reports and posting of the original unedited documents I've helped residents to see what is actually happening at first hand and not through the often opaque and brief reports we get in the local press. All publicity helps and accordingly I want to thank WalesHome for helping to bring our problems to a wider audience - and to remind Anglesey Councillors that all of Wales is now watching you...

On a completely shameless tangent, WalesHome was also kind enough to mention in its article that your humble Druid is "probably the best blogger on Welsh local government". High praise indeed and excellent timing seeing how nominations for this year's Total Politics Best Blogs Poll have just openend. So if you enjoy the Druid (or even if you don't, but find it informative at least) why not click on the button below and vote...

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2010
  

Friday, 2 July 2010

Carl Sargeant to Anglesey Councillors: No more second chances (updated)


No doubt in response to requests by Councillors excluded from the new alliance at Anglesey County Council, the WAG Local Government minister, Carl Sargeant, has sent a letter to all County Councillors clarifying his position on the recent changes. Here are the relevant points:

Although he accepts that the Council has made some progress since last year, Sargeant goes on to say:

"But the underlying issues have never gone away. Council business too often focusses on internal disputes and rivalries rather than on delivering for the citizens of the Island. Too many members still prefer jockeying for their own personal advantage rather than serving those who elected them. As I said to you in February, the people of Anglesey do not care about petty squabbles. They care about vital services, and about their council providing leadership in these difficult times. They are still not getting that."

He clarifies his and WAG's position with regards to the formation of the new Alliance:

"It is not for me to endorse this or any other arrangement, and neither I, the Recovery Board, or any of my officials had any part in negotiating the new alliance or its terms of engagement. We are determined not to enter into local politics or take sides. Nor do we have any power to approve the appointment of a Leader or any interest in influencing such a decision ... But I welcome anything which leads to greater political stability within the Council and more focus on delivering for citizens rather than on internal squabbling."

He ends by making a clear warning that in the event that the Alliance fails, then there will be no more second chances:

"Recent development have shown how quickly change can occur. That works both ways: arrangements can fall apart as fast as they can be put together. Accordingly I have asked my officials in the Recovery Board to prepare contingency plans which we can implement urgently if recovery falters and/or the alliance fails. Those plans would have drastic and possible permanent consequences for the council and its current membership. It is in everyone's interests to ensure that they are never needed."

This is a clear though veiled warning that if the current structure fails then the council will be taken over completely by the Welsh Assembly Government and run from Cardiff. Although this blog is often a critic of Anglesey County Council it also recognises that local people are best served by having decisions about services which affect them taken locally by their elected representatives. Accordingly the Druid hopes that all Councillors will heed Carl Sargeant's warning and none will be so stupid as to 'press the nuclear button' which would lead to the collapse of current arrangements and a WAG take over. It is sad that I should need to write this, but it is time for Councillors to put Anglesey first. 

You can read the full letter below:

Letter to all Anglesey Councillors from Carl Sargeant

UPDATE: Cllr Barrie Durkin, one of the councillors "named and shamed" in the Alliance's Terms of Engagement has sent the below open reply to Carl Sargeant's above letter:

Cllr Barrie Durkin's reply to Carl Sargeant
 

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Is Labour support really surging in North Wales?

  
Below is the Druid's North Wales Poll Tracker incorporating the latest ITV Wales/YouGov survey:

click to enlarge

As has been widely reported in the press, Labour's Welsh surge is also clearly visible in North Wales with apparently 45% of N.Wales constituency voters now backing Labour - the highest figure by some margin since the Druid started this tracker. In contrast both Tory and LibDem support has fallen, with Plaid Cymru picking up somewhat.

Frankly I think this poll is clearly an outlier, and the reason is this: according to the very same poll, 47% of people in North Wales think that either George Osborne's budget cuts are "about right" or "have not gone far enough" - the highest regional support figures of any region in Wales. Similarly, the percentage of people opposed, who think Osborne has "gone too far in trying to reduce the deficit", is just 39% - considerable below the all Wales average of 43%. Accordingly its not clear why Labour's support should  have leapt over 10 points in North Wales since the general election. I fully expect to see Labour's support fall back closer to 35% in the next poll.

Regarding the question of giving the National Assembly increased law-making powers, YouGov finds that North Wales voters are the most sceptical in Wales with 35% planning to vote 'no' - compared to the all-Wales average of just 28%. Furthermore, with only 48% of N.Wales voters planning to vote 'yes', this is the second lowest support figure in Wales. This is very surprising when you consider that the BBC "Wales Devolution" poll carried out in March this year actually found that North Wales residents are much more pro-Assembly and anti-Westminster than any other part of Wales. There is clearly something wrong with either or both of these polls as both results cannot be true.
    
You can find the raw data for the YouGov poll here.