Wednesday, 30 March 2011

++ Commissioners pay confirmed ++

Earlier this week when asked by Anglesey's Councillors to reveal how much they are being paid, our new Commissioners refused to answer. I can now confirm that they will be paid £500 a day for their troubles.

Monday, 28 March 2011

David Bowles' first interview since the sending in of the Commissioners

Anglesey Interim MD David Bowles has given a rare interview to this week's edition of the Local Government Chronicle (subscription required) in which he squarely apportions blame for the Council's downfall on Independent councillors, takes a indirect swipe at Clive McGregor, and dismisses calls for an elected mayor.

On the cause of the problems:
 "The problem when you have a large number of independents is that they either have a charismatic leader who pulls them together or it becomes very divisive, which is what has happened in Anglesey."
This is of course a sideways way of saying that Leader Clive McGregor hasn't been strong enough to hold the Independents together. 

On his recommendations to Carl Sargeant:
Mr Bowles said he had advised Wales' local government minister Carl Sargeant in January to send in commissioners after infighting among independent councillors led to the possibility of leader Clive McGregor being overthrown.
"I recommended commissioners should be appointed until elections in 2012, together with investment in democratic renewal."
A bit of revisionism going on here. The plot to overthrow Clive McGregor in January was not due to "infighting among independent councillors" but actually led by both the Labour and Plaid Cymru groups within the Council with the support of the Original Independents.

On an elected mayor:
...Mr Bowles said this option might not rescue Anglesey, saying "just look at Doncaster".
This a reference to the disaster which ensued at Doncaster after residents there elected an English Democrat mayor in 2009. Read more here.

On boundary changes:
"There are very few multi-member wards, and if you could break those single-member wards you'd then break down some of the parochial attitudes"
An odd thing to say: currently there are no multi-member wards on Ynys Môn, just 40 single member wards. I would have thought David Bowles would know this – unless his comment has been taken out of context by the reporter.

On a merger with Gwynedd:
"If [the commissioners] succeed I hope it'll attract new people to stand as councillors." He added that Anglesey was "a unique place and a merger with Gwynedd would be a last resort".
On the future of Anglesey County Council:
"The long-term survival of the council depends on very substantial changes to its running," Mr Bowles told LGC.

Exactly what those "substantial changes" are we don't know yet. Frankly I doubt if even the Commissioners themselves are sure.

Friday, 25 March 2011

++ David Bowles to step down shortly ++ (Updated)

It seems certain that Anglesey County Council Interim MD, David Bowles, will be stepping down sometime over the next few weeks – probably to free up the £270K a year he currently receives from the Council (and by extension from us residents) in order to pay for our five shiny new Commissioners instead.

UPDATE [28 March]: The BBC now confirms that David Bowles will be stepping down on April 30th and Richard Parry Jones, the current Corporate Director for Education and Leisure at Anglesey, will be acting up to the post.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

An Open Letter to Anglesey's Commissioners

Dear Commissioners,

On the occasion of your first full week of work on the Island allow me to take the liberty of offering you the below well meant advice on how to make your intervention here a success:

1. Make sure that when you leave Anglesey County Council you return it with its borders intact – in other words without parts of Gwynedd or Conwy attached to it. Remember you are just visitors here, do no lasting damage.

2. You may have been appointed by the Welsh Assembly Government but your primary responsibility must always be to the people of Ynys Môn – not to your paymasters in Cardiff Bay. 

3. In order to find the required savings within the Council over the next two years you will need to make crucial decisions regarding the rationalisation of some cherished services. You must always remember that this is a task for which you personally have no democratic mandate; furthermore, due to the temporary suspension of local democracy, Anglesey residents will have nobody to hold to account for the decisions you make. For these reasons it is imperative that you tread lightly and strive to genuinely consult residents as widely as possible. Above all remember that you must always endeavour to make decisions which are best for the people of Ynys Môn — not for the Welsh Assembly Government.

4. Avoid making decisions behind closed doors.  Be guided by the example of the commissioners in Doncaster who always meet in public and publish their agendas and minutes on their own dedicated website (see here).

5. Your single most important task (and the one for which you will be judged) is to introduce a sustainable "democratic renewal" to the Island. Understand this does not simply equate to paving the way for a referendum on an Elected Mayor.  You must again consult widely and pursue several different options if you are to discover the best approach.

6. Do not repeat the mistakes of the previous Recovery Board in attempting to draw a line under the misdeeds of the past. The fracture of trust between officers and members, and between members and each other, have their roots in certain events. For these wounds to be permanently healed, these events need to be investigated properly and any misdeeds by either officers or councillors need to be dealt with correctly once and for all. If you do not do this, there will be no lasting recovery.

7. Remember that people are innocent until proven guilty. The previous policy of requiring members to 'name and shame' certain of their colleagues before the Ombudsman made an independent ruling caused great harm and lasting antagonism. If councillors are to be disciplined: do it properly, don't take shortcuts.

8. Its probably best to seek local advice before finalising your living arrangements on the Island!

Yours faithfully,
"The Druid"

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Quote of the Day (Nuclear-edition) (updated)

Arch-green environmental evangelist and Guardian columnist George Montbiot writes:

"You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology. 
A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation. 
... Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power."

Read it all here.

UPDATE: Readers might be interested in the below latest Press Release from Horizon:

Horizon Nuclear Power, the company behind proposals for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey, today said it is continuing with its development programme and will take full account of the learnings from recent events in Japan.

Alan Raymant, COO of Horizon said:

"The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan have shocked the world and our greatest sympathies are with all those affected by the events.

"At the same time the problems with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant must be, and are being, taken very seriously by the nuclear industry.

"The geology on Anglesey, and the technologies that my company, Horizon Nuclear Power, is considering for a new power station at Wylfa are both different to the circumstances in Japan.  Nevertheless its right that we learn the lessons from those events.

"We are continuing to develop our proposals.  Safe, clean nuclear power generation is increasingly important as part of the UK's energy mix and to the economy of Anglesey and North Wales.

"What we must and will do is make sure our plans reflect the learnings from the forthcoming Chief Nuclear Inspector's report into the events in Japan.

"We are privileged to enjoy strong local support for new nuclear build and we have always promised the people of Anglesey and North Wales that safety is our number one priority.  That remains the case and is the basis on which we'll go forward."

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Changing Allegiances? (updated)

In his statement to the Senedd on Wednesday, Carl Sargeant made a great deal of how Commissioners were necessary because Anglesey Council was unstable due to Councillors changing groups in order to support the latest plots. His exact words were:

 "...the membership of political groups changes on a whim, as members back or oppose the latest plot.  In the last 18 months, around a third of all councillors have changed their allegiance between various groups at least once, with scarcely any attempt to justify their actions to those they represent.  Imagine the uproar if 20 AMs or 215 MPs did so."  

Today's Western Mail unquestioningly repeats this 'fact' in painting the antics at Anglesey Council as the "ugliest example of cynical politics". However the truth is that a third of councillors (i.e. 13 members) have not changed allegiance – and not a single one has done so more than once as claimed by Sargeant. Furthermore the single largest change of allegiance came about in June 2010 when WAG appointee David Bowles himself engineered the split of the Original Independents by encouraging Clive McGregor to form his four man Llais i Fôn group.

Since then Llais i Fôn was bolstered by one more member following the Rhosneigr by-election – but that surely doesn't count as a member changing allegiance.

More recently another member of the Original Independents was coaxed to leave the Independents by both David Bowles and Clive McGregor, though its unclear whether he is now a member of Llais i Fôn or just unaffiliated left of his own free will to become an unaffiliated councillor due to disillusionment with the direction taken by the group [Updated 19 Mar @22:15 following contact from the Councillor in question]

One member of the Menai Group left to become unaffiliated several months ago. That was certainly not in order to support any "plot".

And finally the three members of Anglesey Forward/Môn Ymlaen joined the Original Independents at the beginning of this year.

That makes a total of just nine 'changes of allegiance', the majority of which were instigated by and supported by WAG appointee David Bowles. Why does WAG feel it needs to embellish the truth in order to justify suspending local democracy and sending in the Commissioners?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Challenging the Commissioners

Mark Isherwood AM speaking in the Senedd on Wednesday in response to Carl Sargeant's statement regarding Anglesey County Council:

"This is not the first council in north Wales to have failed in recent years. There was no intervention in the other council, even though serious failings were upheld in a series of PricewaterhouseCoopers reports into a housing function and an independent investigation that found further major failings and concerns in that area. There was also a legally binding 40-page industrial tribunal document, which named and shamed a number of people on a number of serious matters. Why has the person who led the council during the period to which those validated failings apply been appointed as a commissioner to Anglesey to drive forward improvement on a failed authority?"

He was referring to a series of events which culminated with this.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Councillors out, Commissioners in

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?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Carl Sargeant's Statement on Ynys Môn in full

Mr Llywydd, I would like to make a statement about the future of the Isle of Anglesey County Council, and about the actions I am taking following the Auditor General’s re-inspection of it, which he reported today.

Last month I made a written statement to the Assembly which described the situation within the Council following Brian Gibbons’ intervention in 2009.  That intervention tried to help the Council help itself, with the support of a high-calibre Recovery Board and a Managing Director with a strong track record in corporate recovery.

That yielded some progress.  But the basic problem remains.  There are too many Anglesey councillors who are more concerned with pursuing their own advantage than with delivering for the island.  The pervasive political culture puts making and breaking political deals ahead of the needs of Anglesey’s citizens.

That makes the Council critically unstable.  As soon as any administration takes office, its rivals start plotting to undermine or supplant it.  There is and can be no trust, no consistency and no stability.  And that means the people of Anglesey can have no confidence in their elected representatives, or hold them effectively to account.

As a result, the membership of political groups changes on a whim, as members back or oppose the latest plot.  In the last 18 months, around a third of all councillors have changed their allegiance between various groups at least once, with scarcely any attempt to justify their actions to those they represent.  Imagine the uproar if 20 AMs or 215 MPs did so.

To compound the problem, a high proportion of councillors are not opposed at election time: they are repeatedly returned by default, because no-one stands against them.  That might be testament to their local influence, but it is not democratic.  It means the members concerned feel immune from challenge and can behave as they please.  They do not need to be accountable to those who elected them, because no-one elected them.  It also means that Anglesey has one of the worst gender imbalances anywhere – only 2 out of 40 councillors are women.

I accept that in politics different allegiances are often formed, usually in order to bring stability to an elected body.

But this persistent instability, shifting loyalties in pursuit of personal advantage and neglect of the public good cannot continue.   It is not democracy – it is the politics of the playground.

It would be wrong to tar all councillors with the same brush.  I know that some are fully committed to change and recovery, and have tried to take a stand.  But they are too few, and their approach does not seem to have any chance of prevailing.  Equally, there may be many who would prefer things to change but feel unable to act.  As my Recovery Board put it, if there is a silent majority which supports recovery, it is still largely silent.  That is not good enough.

The people of Anglesey will know better than me that the island faces some severe challenges.  It is one of the most isolated parts of Wales, with high levels of deprivation in both urban and rural areas.  It has suffered from very significant job losses in recent years as major employers have collapsed or left the island.   The population is ageing and declining, causing serious over-capacity in some of the Council’s services. The current financial climate will present a huge challenge in protecting the frontline services residents need. I will require responsible and decisive action from the council.

 The potential development of Wylfa B may offer an opportunity to address some of these problems, but it is an opportunity that needs to be pursued sensibly and strategically.  This has been very difficult given the large number of changes within the executive.  The constant changes in portfolio holders  responsible for driving this forward in the last few years and presents a damaging impression of the council’s credibility in leading this major inward investment.

Enough is enough.  I have been more than patient in giving the Council a chance to sort things out itself.  I have been more than generous in providing them with the support to do so.  But it is clear that these councillors are unwilling to accept the responsibilities that their public office requires and instead wish to continue acting in a way which is destructive and dangerous to the future of Anglesey and its citizens.
I am not prepared to continue in this way.  I will therefore be bringing our current intervention to an end that sought in vain to support the Council to resolve its own problems.  Despite that, I would like to thank my Recovery Board for the very considerable efforts they have made.  They have been instrumental in the progress the Council has made over the past 18 months and it is with the greatest regret that I have to conclude that their current role is largely over. It is unfortunate that even the valuable advice, commitment and dedication of seven very high-calibre individuals has not moved the Council forward in key areas, which underlines the need for a stronger intervention.   I am very pleased that the Board has agreed to lend its very considerable knowledge and expertise to help us move to that new intervention.

I am therefore giving a further and much more stringent direction to the Council, effective immediately.  It will bring stability to the council’s politics, ensure consistency in strategic decision-making and protect front-line services.   The main terms of that direction will be as follows.

Firstly, I accept the Auditor General’s recommendation that I should appoint Commissioners to run the Council.  They will assume all of the functions of the Council’s executive.  The Commissioners will be scrutinised by the Council and its committees in the same way as the executive is now.

I am pleased to announce that I have appointed 2 commissioners to exercise the Council’s executive functions on my behalf. They are:

Mr Byron Davies - former Chief Executive of Cardiff County Council;
Mr Alex Aldridge – former Leader of Flintshire County Council and the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)

I intend to appoint Mr Mick Giannasi - current Chief Constable of Gwent Police after his retirement from the Police Service at the end of the month.  I also plan to appoint a further two commissioners shortly, and will announce their names as soon as possible.

Secondly, last month I commended the Council’s staff for continuing to provide services in the most difficult of circumstances.  That has to continue, and the existing delegations to the Council’s officers will remain in place.

Thirdly, I will retain the power to appoint the Council’s chief executive.  I will also withdraw from the Council the power to appoint other statutory officers concerned with corporate governance – the monitoring officer and the chief finance officer.  It is vital that these posts are occupied by high-calibre individuals who are immune from attack by members.  It is equally vital that the council pays heed to their advice.  So I am also directing that any decision of the Council or its committees which goes against the advice of statutory officers must be referred to the Commissioners for confirmation or overruling.
The Auditor General also recommended that I should consider instigate a review of electoral boundaries on the island As an alternative, he suggested that I should direct the Council to hold a referendum on an elected Mayor, and that I should consider directing the Council to develop and implement a strategy that promotes democratic renewal.

I will be immediately instructing the Local Government Boundary Commission to undertake a review of the electoral boundaries of the Authority and will be considering what action can be taken to support democratic renewal.

I also agree fully with the Auditor General and with my Recovery Board that a wider programme of democratic renewal is absolutely essential on the island.  More people need to stand for election, and Council politics needs a much greater focus on delivering for citizens. I will be writing to the Electoral Commission to ask them to be involved in this work.

In light of the reduced role of councillors within the Authority which will be brought about by my directions, I will be asking the Independent Remuneration Panel to conduct a review of the allowances of councillors in the Authority with a view to them reflecting their diminished roles.   I will be writing to them immediately to ask them to undertake this work.

The actions I am outlining today are not decisions that any Minister can take lightly.  Indeed, they are decisions that I can only take with a profound sense of sadness.  I would much prefer to trust local authorities and their members to discharge their considerable public responsibilities effectively, accountably and conscientiously.   Virtually all of them do.  But where they do not, we have no alternative but to act.

When I addressed the Council a year ago I said that I didn’t want to be there under those terms.  I didn’t want to be intervening in their affairs.  And I didn’t want to be spending large sums of public money on helping them to recover.  I offered them a simple challenge: sort yourselves out, act responsibly for the people you represent and we will leave you alone.   It is a challenge that they have clearly failed to meet.
Mr Llywydd, the actions and attitudes of too many of Anglesey’s councillors have indeed left me with no alternative.   They have demonstrated that they care more about their personal standing than about securing recovery.  They have spurned the chance to help themselves which Brian Gibbons gave to them with his original intervention, and the intensive support which they have received as a result.  Most importantly, they have betrayed those who elected them, and those that they are supposed to serve.
The direction I am making today will help restore effective governance; it will ensure better strategic leadership; and it will protect vital services from the damage that continued petty political bickering causes.   I intend that it will continue at least until the next local elections.   But it is clearly not a long-term solution.   That can only lie in the sort of democratic renewal that the Auditor General and my Recovery Board have advocated.  So if Anglesey Council has a future, it is in the hands of the people of the island.  All I have done today is to protect them for now from the harmful influence of those who have unfortunately consistently let them down.   The people of Angelsey deserve better and this action intends to see that they get it.

Prospects of a sustainable recovery by August 2011 are poor, says the Auditor General.

Below is the press release and full report from the Welsh Audit Office. In essence it makes the following six recommendations:

  1. That WAG sends in the Commissioners
  2. That WAG retains the right to appoint an Interim MD, but better define the functions of the job and make it more accountable
  3. In the event that any statutory posts become vacant (e.g. Monitoring Officer) that WAG be responsible for appointing a successor
  4. That the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales re-examine their proposals reducing the number of councillors and introducing multi-member wards in order to bring about "democratic renewal".
  5. If the Boundary Commission is not able to do this by the next scheduled local elections in 2012, WAG should delay the elections on Ynys Môn until 2013
  6. WAG should consider holding a referendum on Ynys Môn for the appointment of an elected mayor.
The BBC report is here.


Welsh Ministers intervention in 2009 has not succeeded in producing a sustainable recovery from the Isle of Anglesey County Council's long history of weak governance, and stronger intervention is necessary. This is the conclusion of the Auditor General's Corporate Governance Re-inspection report, which is published today, and which concludes that the Council's prospects of achieving a full and sustainable recovery by August 2011 are poor and prospects of doing so by May 2012 ahead of local council elections are uncertain.
The Minister for Social Justice and Local Government requested the Auditor General to re-inspect the Council in February 2011. He asked for an urgent assessment of the situation at the Council and the progress it has made to date in addressing the findings of the Auditor Generals 2009 Corporate Governance Inspection report.
The inspection found that, although there has been progress since 2009, conflict  is once again having a corrosive effect that seriously jeopardises service delivery. Instability and uncertainty have affected staff morale and the prospects for greater collaborative work with neighbouring Gwynedd Council. Instability is also distracting staff and councillors from delivering the ambitious programme of improvement that the Council has set for itself in its Corporate Plan.
Following the Ministerial intervention in 2009, a number of positive changes and learning opportunities have arisen for staff and councillors. The Recovery Board appointed by the Minister, has brought a diverse range of expertise and experience to the Council, and has provided valuable insight as well as monitoring the Council's progress and regularly reporting this to the Minister.
The Council has taken significant steps to improve consistency in its approach to corporate issues, but the inspection found that these changes have not yet been embedded. There has also been progress in ensuring a consistent approach across the Council in business planning, project and programme management and performance management but the Council acknowledges that more work is needed to make sure that the changes are implemented in full, and that they bring about the intended improvements.
But, despite the progress the Council has made, events in the early part of 2011 suggest that the efforts of the Recovery Board and the Interim Managing Director have ultimately proved unsuccessful in resolving the Council's underlying weaknesses of corporate governance. The re-inspection found that the pursuit of power for its own sake or for the advantages that it can bring to individuals or the wards they represent has once again emerged. The report suggests that the Council's lack of diversity contributes to this culture and also deters new blood from standing for election.
The overall conclusion of the re-inspection is that, in order to improve the Council's prospects of recovery, Ministers should continue to intervene in the running of the Council and should strengthen the terms of their intervention.
The Auditor General makes a number of recommendations for Ministers to consider including:

  • Welsh Ministers should direct that the executive functions of the Council be exercised by commissioners appointed by them.
  • Welsh Ministers should retain the power to appoint an Interim Managing Director, but give greater clarity in the terms of reference for the post and in defining the accountability of the post holder.
  • If any of the Council's other statutory officer posts become vacant during the period of Intervention, then the function of appointing should be exercised by the Commissioners.
  • Welsh Ministers should direct the Council to develop a strategy that promotes democratic renewal, and that they should also request that the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales review its existing proposals relating to the numbers of councillors and the introduction of multi-member wards so that these address adequately the need for democratic renewal. Any such changes should be implemented prior to the next local election. It may therefore be necessary for the Minister to use powers under section 87 of the Local Government Act 2000 to delay the elections until 2013.

The Auditor General also suggests that Welsh Ministers should consider directing the Council to conduct a referendum that seeks the views of the Anglesey electorate on a change to the Council's model of governance to that of Directly Elected Mayor and Cabinet.
Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said today:
It is disappointing that Ministerial intervention has not succeeded in producing sustainable recovery for Isle of Anglesey Council. I acknowledge that, in some respects, the Council has responded positively to the intervention, but much work remains to implement plans and embed the modernisation of the Council's corporate arrangements. For this to happen there needs to be political stability within the Council and I do not believe the Council's current democratic arrangements support the changes that are needed.
In making specific recommendations for further Ministerial directions, I hope that a stronger intervention combined with democratic renewal will help to resolve these issues and allow the Council to move forward in a positive direction as well as securing sustainable recovery for the future.

The full report is attached below (hat tip Photon Blog):


An important day for Ynys Môn

Today will be an important day for Ynys Môn as WAG Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, will be releasing a written statement revealing the results of the recent emergency audit of Anglesey County Council and what steps he intends to take in consequence.

In the meantime its worth noting that the WAG Local Government Measure which will give WAG power to forcibly merge up to three Local Authorities — widely interpreted  as being an instrument designed to merge Ynys Môn and Gwynedd councils — was passed in the Senedd yesterday on the strength of Labour and Plaid Cymru votes. Both the Welsh Conservatives and Lib Dems voted against it.

As I noted last week, if Ieuan Wyn Jones is as opposed to a merger between Ynys Môn and Gwynedd as he claims, then the real test of his resolve would be whether he would instruct his AMs to vote against this enabling measure. He did not. Furthermore, he was not even in the chamber for the debate...

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Press Statement from Horizon Nuclear Power

Horizon Nuclear Power, the joint venture between RWE Npower and E.on which is developing Wylfa B has released the below press statement with reference the problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan:

Following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, our heart-felt sympathy goes out to all those who have been affected. 
It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the nuclear incidents which are currently taking place in Japan, given that we do not have first hand involvement. 
However we welcome the statement made on Sunday by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne, announcing that the Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, has been asked to prepare a report on the implications and lessons learned from the situation in Japan.  
UK nuclear installations are built with a wealth of safety measures in place to ensure that they can withstand a range of natural disasters and avoid causing harm to the public or to the environment. These installations are assessed extremely thoroughly by the regulators to ensure that containment remains effective even in the most extreme circumstances, and the design that Horizon selects for its proposed installations will also go through this thorough assessment. 
The results of Dr Weightman's analysis will clearly provide an important check on the UK's standards for nuclear installations.

Monday, 14 March 2011

An Audit Report without recommendations, a Recovery Board which doesn't know what Recovery looks like.

The BBC are reporting that the recently completed (but still top secret) emergency Auditor's report into Anglesey County Council does not contain any recommendations. In which case what is the point of it?

We have had over a year and a half of WAG intervention, featuring the highest paid Civil Servant in Wales in addition to regular monitoring by a mini-Quango in the shape of the Recovery Board. Both report back to WAG Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant on a regular basis — why therefore was there a need to carry out an emergency audit too, especially if it does not contain any recommendations? Surely the problems at the council could have been adequately ascertained by simply asking the current well paid overseers?

An Audit without any recommendations reminds me of a snippet from a Recovery Board report from last April. After six (yes, six!) meetings, the Recovery Board basically admitted that they didn't know "what is a successful recovery". In retrospect the consequences of those tasked with solving the problem not knowing what the solution looks like explains pretty well why the problems at the council have got worse rather than better over the last year and a half of WAG intervention.


On a personal note I am deeply saddened by the devastation and huge loss of life in Japan following the 8.9 richter scale earthquake and tsunami. I spent six happy years living and working in Tokyo and Osaka when younger and still regard Japan as my second home after Wales. I myself experienced many earth tremors (indeed, they happened every day) but they rarely last longer than a few seconds — the latest earthquake lasted much, much longer and must have been quite terrifying. It is a testament to Japanese construction techniques that the quake itself caused so little structural damage; it was the tsunami and the brute force of the ocean which has caused the majority of the devastation we have witnessed on our TVs — and put our own problems into stark contrast.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The irony.

At this evening's Wylfa B Project Liaison Group meeting, Ieuan Wyn Jones was at pains to press Horizon representatives -- in front of the assembled audience -- to ensure that local Welsh companies are able to compete and tender for multi-sized parcels of work.

I completely agree.

But considering Ieuan's desire to see local companies getting a fair bite of the procurement cherry...

  • ...why was the construction of WAG's Llandudno Office for instance awarded to a non-local company?
  • ...and why have local Welsh construction firms been excluded from tendering on numerous North Wales school building projects?

Don't do as I do. Do as I say.

Incidentally, by way of comparison, the Coalition Government has introduced measures which would ensure that SMEs get at least 25% of government contracts. I would like to see WAG introduce similar procurement rules here in Wales.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Struck by Lightning...

Over the last couple of years I wonder how many electric car makers have come specifically to Anglesey wanting to set up a manufacturing plant in Holyhead, potentially employing up to 400 people?

There must have been a great many because apparently our AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones, can't remember having met with one in September 2009 -- just as Anglesey Aluminium finally closed its gates with a loss of 450 jobs and three months before Holyhead's Eaton Electric also closed losing another 240 jobs. I would have thought that at a time of huge job losses in one of the poorest parts of Ynys Môn a clean tech, cutting edge company wanting to set up in Holyhead would have been welcomed with open arms by the Island's AM. Instead he is quoted in today's Holyhead and Anglesey Mail as saying, "I don't really remember the meeting"...

Following some leads I discovered through an FoI request that in September 2009 Ieuan Wyn Jones AM met with the management of Lightning Car Company together with senior councillors and officers from the economic development unit and Brynle Williams, "on the topic of startup electric car business on the island". According to Cllr Bryan Owen, who attended the meeting and was then the Economic Development portfolio holder, "They [Lightning] were very impressed with the port and road infrastructure. They were keen to move forward and it was left to the Assembly Government to come up with some funding and that's where it died a death as far as I'm aware".

Manufacturing opportunities need to be grasped with both hands when they come along. They provide the kind of mass work we need on this island, and they also require a mix of skilled, semi-skilled and low-skilled workers thus providing job opportunities across the board. Furthermore Electric cars may still be niche currently but they are undoubtedly the future of motoring and the sector will grow and grow from now on -- particularly considering the effect on oil prices due to the current turmoil in the Middle East. Imagine the symbolism of manufacturing electric cars on the 'Energy Island' -- it would have been a tremendous boost to the standing of Ynys Môn.

The final point to mention is that this company wanted to set up at Parc Cybi industrial estate (also known as Tŷ Mawr) just off junction 2 of the A55 in Holyhead. WAG poured millions of pounds into setting up the site, buying the land, connecting it with a fibre-optic internet connection, funding an (ongoing) archeological survey of the land, and putting in the road infrastructure to serve it. Yet several years after completion it is still completely empty; not a single company has set up there and the land is now only used for grazing. Parc Cybi is in effect the most expensive sheep grazing land in the whole of North Wales, and those sheep enjoy a better internet connection than 99% of the human inhabitants of this island!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

IWJ: Words versus Deeds

Tucked away on page 20 of yesterday's Daily Post was a (somewhat long) Op Ed by Ieuan Wyn Jones setting out his position on the future of Anglesey County Council. I welcome that in response to some prodding in the press he has finally come out and explained his position, the essence if it being that although he feels "further intervention in the workings of the council is ... inevitable", he does not believe that "we have yet reached the position that the best interests of the council or the people of Anglesey would be served by the complete withdrawal of powers from elected councillors and the appointment of commissioners". However most importantly Ieuan Wyn Jones unequivocally states that he does "oppose a merger between Ynys Môn and Gwynedd, since it would not be in the best interests of either council". He has been very clear in words, but lets see if he will also follow through with action.

As it happens the new report on Anglesey Council by the Auditor General will be completed shortly and passed to WAG Local Government minister, Carl Sargeant. We don't know what it will say, but its possible that it could recommend that the problems at Ynys Môn are so intractable that a merger with a neighbouring authority should be looked into. That would be convenient for Sargeant as just next week the WAG Local Government Measure -- which currently includes the controversial powers to forcefully amalgamate local authorities -- will be debated by AMs again. An independent report from the Auditor General recommending the merging of Ynys Môn and Gwynedd would be useful ammunition for Carl Sargeant. The Conservatives and Lib Dems however are pledged to oppose the powers which would allow WAG to force council mergers -- therefore Carl Sargeant will only be able to get it passed if Plaid Cymru AMs support it.

If Ieuan Wyn Jones truly believes that Ynys Môn and Gwynedd should not be merged, will he instruct his AMs not to support this part of the Measure? That will be the true test of his commitment to preserve Ynys Môn.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

£128,466.59 (updated)

According to this FOI request, that's how much in total the Anglesey Recovery Board has cost the public purse to date.

What have we had in return for £128,466.59?

Well, we've got the seven reports from the Recovery Board to the WAG Local Government Minister which they have made public here. That works out at just under £20K a report then.

(Incidentally, according to its terms of reference the Recovery Board is obliged to produce a report to the Minister after each of its meetings. Why then, you might ask, have no new reports been produced since last July despite the board having met on 15th September, 8th December and most recently on the 31st January? Well, according to this FOI reply, they didn't bother in September as the Minister attended their meeting (therefore there is no need for any public record apparently). They also didn't bother for the December meeting. Why? Because of, and I quote, "the proximity of Christmas"...)

What else have we got? Well apparently not much because, as you know, despite Plaid Cymru and Labour in Cardiff Bay having spent £128K on the Recovery Board and a further £270K a year on an interim MD, the recovery has stalled and the auditors have been sent in, again.

In conclusion: plenty of public money has been spent but we are back to square one. Its like déjà vu all over again.

UPDATE: To further underline the failure of WAG to turn around Anglesey Council, Gwynedd Council have today announced that they are suspending their involvement in the scoping study imposed by Carl Sargeant in December to find areas where Anglesey and Gwynedd councils can cooperate.

Harry Thomas, the Chief Exec of Gwynedd, is quoted in the Daily Post as saying:

“Since Gwynedd Council agreed to the Minister’s request in December 2010, Anglesey Council has experienced considerable political turmoil which has created uncertainty regarding its future political leadership.”
He added: “Such a climate of instability and uncertainty is not conducive to successful large-scale collaboration. Gwynedd Council has consequently had to reconsider its position.
“Despite these developments, Gwynedd Council will continue to work with Anglesey to explore smaller scale, specific collaborative opportunities providing the benefits substantially outweigh the risks.”

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Why I will be voting 'Yes' on March 3rd.

As it is St David's Day, today its a pretty good opportunity to explain how I will be voting at the Extra Powers for Wales referendum this Thursday, March 3rd, and why.

I will be voting 'yes' for four main reasons:

  1. No matter which party (or parties) are in power in Westminster, UK-wide one-size-fits-all legislation will by definition not be equally optimum for all parts of the United Kingdom. Accordingly the Welsh Assembly is the ideal vehicle for developing and implementing differentiated policies which are specific to the needs of Wales alone. The referendum on March 3rd merely allows for the Assembly to be able to pass laws in the areas it already has competence quicker.
  2. I fully subscribe to the principle that laws which exclusively apply to one region should be decided exclusively within that region. During the previous Labour administration in Westminster we all became accustomed to the sight of legislation which exclusively affected England (and in some cases England and Wales) only being passed due to the support of Scottish Labour MPs representing constituencies which would be entirely unaffected by said legislation. Known as the West Lothian Question, it remains a constitutional abomination. Although the situation whereby Measures passed in the Assembly are scrutinised by MPs and Peers in Westminster is not a direct parallel to the West Lothian Question, the principle of those unaffected by the law in question being removed entirely from the lawmaking process is sound.
  3. A yes vote on Thursday will merely put Wales on almost equal footing with the other devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which already do not need to have their laws scrutinised by Westminster. As a proud Welshman I personally have never seen any good reason why Wales should be treated any differently from Scotland or Northern Ireland.
  4. I instinctively believe in Localism. Political decisions which affect us all, should be taken as closely as possible to us -- not by some overlarge central top-down bureaucracy. This, for example, is why I am so keen to preserve the integrity of Anglesey County Council and not see it submerged within a Greater Gwynedd.

As a final footnote: I personally don't believe that the current Plaid Cymru and Labour coalition in Cardiff Bay has done a particularly good job. Indeed in crucial areas -- Education and Economic Development being just two -- they have failed abysmally and let Wales down. However none of this undermines the case for the Welsh Assembly itself -- it merely underlines the lack of competence and vision of the current crop of AMs from the ruling parties. I fully believe that the nation of Wales' future economic and social success rests entirely upon the Welsh Assembly developing unique and radical policies which differentiate Wales positively from the rest of the UK as both a place to live, work and invest.