Having digested the events of yesterday, here are my initial thoughts on the Auditor's Report and Carl Sargeant's statement:
- From the moment that Clive McGregor sacked John Chorlton and Hefin Thomas from the Executive at the end of January for their part in an attempt to depose him as Leader, and then wrote to WAG Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant saying, "...this Authority will not recover. I do not believe that investing further money in the recovery process is justified", it was inevitable that WAG would have to be seen to take action. The emergency audit called in response to Clive McGregor's letter recommended yesterday that Commissioners be sent in to run the council. Carl Sargeant duly and inevitably obliged.
- Was WAG action merited? Thanks to its hardworking staff Anglesey County Council is by no means a 'failing council', however considering how many "Last Chance Saloons" there have been over the last 18 months WAG had no alternative but to finally take decisive action. Councillors — and in particular certain group leaders — have to accept their responsibility for having taken a completely unnecessary gamble in trying to force Clive McGregor to stand down early. The best thing that many of them can now do would be to take this opportunity to retire. They must surely recognise that they no longer have a future or meaningful role within the Council.
- However, it is undeniable that the WAG intervention in Ynys Môn has been a miserable failure. Accepting some successes in addressing problems with corporate governance, scrutiny, and the winner-takes-all mentality, the Interim MD and Recovery Board have not delivered value for the vast sums of public money which has been spent on them. I do not believe that David Bowles has demonstrated judgement worthy of his £1,000 a day price tag — his role was to bring councillors together, instead it seems clear that he has only succeeded in creating animosity where generally it did not exist previously. With a couple of honourable exceptions the appointees to the Recovery Board have been lacklustre. The majority's only qualification for the role was their availability; and who in their right mind would appoint a Professor of Communications and Creative Industries with a background in TV and no Local Government experience whatsoever as Chair of such a body? WAG needed to appoint people with a proven track record in ether Local or National government in Wales and who Anglesey councillors would have respected. WAG got it wrong and we are now witnessing the fallout.
- Unfortunately it seems clear that Carl Sargeant and WAG are about to repeat the same mistakes. There has been no transparency about the appointment process of the three already named Commissioners; all three are public sector retirees who's glory days, one would suspect, are long behind them (indeed one stepped down from his previous position due to ill health). Also, considering how much Carl Sargeant made of the fact that many Ynys Môn councillors were elected unopposed, does it really therefore make sense to appoint as a Commissioner ex-Flintshire councillor Alex Aldridge, who was elected unopposed to the Flint Coleshill ward? Anyway, in a council which already has its fair share of retirees are these really the men who will usher in a "democratic renewal" in Ynys Môn?
- Furthermore as it appears that the Commissioners will probably be with us for at least the next two years (until delayed Local Elections in 2013), it will be these unelected, mandate-less, un-transparently appointed commissioners who will be taking decisions on how to find the £10 million savings required over that time period. It will be they who will be making decisions on job losses within the council, leisure facilities, libraries, and other services. Considering how sloppy the previous Recovery Board became about keeping a record of their activities I wonder how transparent these Commissioners will be and how they intend to interact with the Anglesey public?