Monday, 26 March 2012

Suspension of Island Democracy finally debated in the Senedd

Last Wednesday the suspension of local democracy in Ynys Môn was debated in the Senedd for the first time since Welsh Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, announced by diktat in January that local elections on Ynys Môn would be postponed until 2012 — one year after every other county in Wales goes to the polls. The debate was prompted by the Lib Dems tabling a motion to annul the Minister's decision.

The elections were postponed following the following recommendations by the Auditor General for Wales following his March 2011 re-inspection of Anglesey County Council:

"I also recommend that the Welsh Ministers direct the authority to develop and implement a strategy that promotes democratic renewal, and that Welsh Ministers provide assistance to the authority under section 28 of the Measure in pursuit of that renewal. In so doing, I also recommend that Welsh Ministers request the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales to review its proposals published in 2010 to ensure that the changes proposed adequately address the need for democratic renewal in Anglesey in terms of the number of councillors and the introduction of multi-member wards. If it is not possible to complete and implement this review by May 2012, I recommend that the Ministers consider using powers under section 87 of the Local Government Act 2000 to delay the Council’s elections until 2013."

Whatever you may think of the postponement of elections on Ynys Môn in order to ensure that the next election is conducted under an entirely new electoral system, it is surely not right for such a major decision to have been taken on the recommendation of just one man, the Auditor General for Wales — who is, after all, unelected. I would even go further and say that Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General and former Chief Executive of Gwynedd and Denbighshire councils, went beyond his remit in:

  • recommending changes to the electoral arrangements which will result in Ynys Môn having uniquely different arrangements to every other county in Wales;
  • recommending postponing elections in order to facilitate these electoral changes.

Either way, to my mind it is surely entirely proper that these dramatic and far reaching decisions should be subject to proper examination and some degree of democratic accountability through the means of a debate in the Senedd. Well done therefore to the Lib Dems in tabling the motion!

This is not however a view shared by our own AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones, who told the chamber:

"I am disappointed that the Liberal Democrats have decided to bring up this issue."

...before going on to say...

"The auditor is independent, and we need to be very clear in our reasons for going against the truly independent views that he has expressed. If the auditor believes, in his advice to the Minister, that democratic renewal can best be achieved by ensuring that multi-member wards are created, the best thing that we can do is allow time for that to happen."

So, according to Ieuan Wyn Jones, there is no need to even debate or discuss a recommendation made by the Auditor General. In which case, why do we need politicians like him? Its also worth remembering that Ieuan Wyn's own Plaid Cymru councillors in Ynys Môn were unanimous in opposing the delay of elections. The Lib Dem, Peter Black, succinctly explained why Ieuan was wrong:

"I refer to the comments from the Member for Ynys Môn, Ieuan Wyn Jones, when he said that he was disappointed that this motion was being brought forward. I believe that, on principle, if we are going to defer elections, then at the very least, Assembly Members should vote on the matter. I think that that is responsible and is absolutely right.  The situation in Anglesey is unique, which is why we need to tread carefully and ensure that we do not forego the democratic principles, which is what we are doing by proceeding with this Order. The auditor general, who, by the way, is unelected, wants democratic renewal—that is precisely what we suggest and what we propose here as part of this motion."

Here are some other highlights from the debate.

Antoinette Sandbach AM (Conservative):

"People have a regular democratic right to give their verdict on their council at the ballot box, and this mandate has been removed from the voters of Ynys Môn. Meanwhile, the Welsh Government and Ynys Môn County Council have made decisions that will have a huge impact on the residents of Anglesey, and which those residents are powerless to do anything about this year because they have been denied the right to judge the council at the ballot box. 
If there was an election in May, would the council have imposed the biggest council tax hike in the whole of the United Kingdom, at 4.5%? I do not think so. Would it have decided just days after this announcement to advertise four brand new senior management posts with a combined salary of more than £400,000 a year? I do not think so. Who is footing the bill for all of this? The answer, of course, is the council tax payers—the voters of Anglesey. Clearly, there are problems in Ynys Môn, but is the democratic process one of those problems? At the last council election, 25% of the council seats changed hands. The council was refreshed by the voters, so it is not as if the electorate did not use their democratic right to give their verdict on the conduct of the council at the ballot box. The people of Anglesey have the right to ask why its council is the only one in Wales to have multi-member wards imposed on it by the Welsh Government. Does this make the system more democratic, or do multi-member wards serve to widen the gap between the councillor and the constituent? Does this make political campaigning prohibitively expensive for independent candidates? Is the imposition of multi-member wards by the Minister really happening because the Minister does not like the results of the election in Anglesey? Postponing the election does not solve any of the problems; all it does is to remove the democratic right of the electorate."

Peter Black AM (Lib Dem):

"Democracy is about empowerment and not about diktats from the centre. The question is: what do we mean by 'democratic renewal’? In my view, it means a democratic election in which voters can judge matters for themselves. Yet the residents of Ynys Môn are being denied that, which is why we believe that this Order has to be overturned. We have supported the intervention and the auditor general’s judgment on this issue, but it is argued that we cannot allow this issue to continue without elections. If elections took place, it would not mean the end of the intervention board, as the Minister indicated, but would give the board the opportunity to work with councillors with a fresh mandate and those councillors could demonstrate the support of the electorate. Decisions are being taken that would not have been considered if there were elections this year. That cannot be right and we believe that if we are to restore any credence to the democratic process, we have to have elections in Anglesey along with the other 21 councils on 3 May."

Mark Isherwood AM (Conservative):

"The Isle of Anglesey council has been dogged by scandal since its formation in 1996. Serious allegations relate mainly to planning and to grants, and specifically to the council’s senior management and corporate governance. However, only in his statement last month did this Minister finally acknowledge that these areas need radical reform. Until now, the rhetoric from Welsh Government has all been about democratic renewal to tackle 'chronic political infighting and misbehaviour’. Three weeks ago, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales dropped a case against Anglesey councillor Elwyn Schofield on the grounds that the evidence was contradictory and largely uncorroborated. This case was brought by the former interim managing director, who also obliged council group leaders to sign terms of engagement that forced them to publicly and robustly condemn this councillor and other named councillors. That ultimately led to the appointment of commissioners, the postponement of local elections and drastic local boundary changes. Last March, the Minister announced that he was replacing the elected executive with commissioners paid £500 a day. The first two commissioners he announced were a Flintshire Labour colleague, criticised for presiding over a series of scandals at Flintshire County Council—all documented by independent reports—and the man who was chief executive of the then Labour Cardiff County Council when it was rocked by a multi-million pound scandal over unlawful expenses. When I met leading Anglesey councillors last December, they told me that
'the problem was always corporate governance in an Officer led Council, not members with horns on their heads’.
They said:
'Councils in the rest of Wales are being allowed four years to change their electoral boundaries, but Anglesey was only being given 4 weeks just before Christmas’."

Aled Roberts AM (Lib Dem):

"Our reason for bringing forward this motion is that it is our judgment that the boundaries are not the reason for the political challenges facing the county. Many county councils that consist entirely of single member wards do not face the same political difficulties that led to the imposition of commissioners. Similarly, there are multi-member ward councils that do not operate effectively.The council has just had to pass a budget recommended to it by the commissioners. Given the situation, and the fact that the council is under heavy supervision from the Government, in reality it would have been impossible for the council to reject the budget. This has led to an increase of 4.5% in council tax next year, which is the highest of any council in England and Wales. If there are no elections this year, and the commissioners remain in place, an additional budget will be passed next year by the council based on representations made by the commissioners. We believe that this denies the people of Anglesey an opportunity to vote for an administration of their choice to take the island forward for the next few years. Furthermore, there is little evidence in the council’s internal minutes to suggest any real action taken with regard to efforts of democratic renewal with the current councillors. Therefore, the position will be that, if democratic elections are held next year and the same councillors are returned, to all intents and purposes, no real effort will have been made to change behaviours that have, quite clearly, been in place in that county for a number of years.A delay of a year before elections are held on the island is unacceptable. If any council is in need of democratic renewal, it is Ynys Môn, and the best way of ensuring democratic renewal is through holding elections."

The motion was defeated 33 votes to 17.


kp said...

It has taken you long enough to report on this issue. Perhaps just informing us that a debate in the parliament of Wales was going to take place on such and such a date and at such and such a time would have been more useful. We could then have watched the proceedings for ourselves.

Almost a week later it's all well and truly done and dusted. Indeed, it old and boring news.

Paul Williams said...

Dear KP,

If you followed my Twitter status you would have seen I informed that the debate was going to happen last Wednesday:!/Y_Druid/status/182407315171983360

I didn't post this report until today because I was waiting for the transcripts to be available on the NAW website.

Any more complaints?

Cynic said...

We may have forgotten that Huw Vaughan Thomas was turned down for the job of MD at the not too distant past.....quite irrelevant of course !

Anonymous said...

Shameful episode in the day to day soap opera called Ynys Mon. Even Cardiff and the Labour Bandit's continue to deny us a right to Vote!
Suggestion... send a message to the bald eagle, William Hague.

Wiliam, we have loads of oil and we can't vote as part of our democratic process.... next day NATO bomb the government out.( Libya)

William, we are Welsh, yeah from Anglesey yeah, we get no vote no! for elections yeah!we got no oil though we got farchnad Llangefni, a Sioe Borth.

William, are you still there? hello? hello?


228FPA said...

We got ourselves into this farcical situation by continuing to vote in the same old shower of ....

We got what we deserved.Now we are paying the price.

I'd rather not vote in the next 5 sets of elections if it means we can eventually have a county council on Anglesey that we can have faith in and be proud of. Where the priorities are the good of the county and not their own interests. At this very minute we seem to be a long way off.

Too many good councillors kept their mouths shut and their eyes away when they knew things were astray. Just as guilty as the rest.

Far too many local politicians involved, the party good, my electorate, ...I'll say no more.

Long live the Commissioners.

The Red Flag said...

228FPA - Fully agree.

kp said...

Fully agree too, IoACC remains a disgrace, a national disgrace!

Insider said...

News from the Kremlin, to night.

Threats of Law suits and sackings push Anglesey County Council, over the top leaving, the Welsh Assembly, Local Government Minister, with his head in his hands.

Anglesey County Council, has at long last fell foul of Cllr Durkin's, wrath and forced to remove highly confidential material from their website.

Is this the end of those responsible, will we see the sparks fly now?

Richard Sletzer said...

228FPA: I have to agree with you. The cause of Anglesey's problems is the voters of Anglesey.

It is those who have the right to vote - but who didn't bother to exercise that right - who are responsible.

It is those who voted - but who didn't bother to assess the quality of the candidates before casting their vote who are responsible.

...And it is the failure of honest, principled and intelligent Anglesey people to stand for election that is responsible. These are the "Let someone else do it" brigade who COULD make a contribution but who don't.

As Edmund Burke said "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". ....and on Anglesey that's exactly what they did.....nothing.

Where were the solicitors, the doctors, the educated professionals, the business people? Why weren't they standing for election? Why weren't they even voting?

In a way the withdrawal of elections is a justified punishment - meted out on the entire adult population of the island. I hope it stings. I hope it hurts. Anglesonians you had it coming. You deserve it. I hope you remember it so that this doesn't happen again.

We ALL have a responsibility to get involved in one way or another to make democracy work. It won't work in Anglesey or anywhere else unless people actively engage in it.

I just hope that lesson has now been learned.

228FPA said...

The problem seems to be one of parochialness - keep your locals happy and be guaranteed a job for life.

He's/She's a brilliant local concillor - look at what she/he got for us here in "Llanfairwhereeveritis" - keep voting him/her in - look at the very small macro picture and forget the bigger picture. Anglesey voters to a tee - hence where we are now.

I wonder what might happen if someone did stand against certain councillors on this Island?

I understand why professional people wouldn't want to join - you get tarred with the same brush. Also a professional person has a day job as well.

Emptying toliets by hand is a more honourable occupation than being a councillor on Anglesey.

Sorry to the good ones but you knew it was going on, you did WHAT to stop it?

What this Island needs is a bunch of hard nosed business men - brought in from the outside to sort this mess out. Forget the language isssue - people with a proven track record in sorting out the .... Bring em on!

Salaries - as much as it takes!

Cynic said...

There is a small rotten but influential and deep-rooted core of Councillors in Anglesey who are to blame, we know who they are, and they need to be rooted out.The majority of others are reasonable Councillors, but as has been said, they have sat on the sides and, for whatever reason, let the rot take hold....shame on them for this too.....they are culpable.
Yes we need new blood.
But its a fallacy to expect honest professional types with successful practices to enter the political fray and soon become tarnished as an Anglesey Councillor. It will not happen.
The answer as has been said many times before, but ignored, is to set an age limit on all Councillors, of 65, and no-one shall be allowed to serve more than 2 terms.

228FPA said...

It used to be

What you knew

then it became

Who you knew

now it's

What you know
about who you know.

How much of this is endemic in the corridors of the IoACC I wonder?

Anonymous said...

If we were to list all of the complaints and all of the problems and hand them in to the Commissioners there would still be no action taken.

If we were to list all of the grievances and heart wrenching horrors committed by this Council and handed then in to the Commissioners there would still be no action taken.

The only thing that the Commissioners are interested in is a quiet life, where all problems and grievances are ignored.

We have NO hope of change, we are constantly betrayed by our Council and our own Country.

It doesn't matter what happened in the past, it's all history, damage and considerable political upheaval supported by this Council and the failing Assembly, have condemned us all into a pit of collective failings.

Employers have left us in droves, our children have no future on this Island, thank's to a system where the children have seen their own parent's lives being treated as a worthless asset. The only employer left will be the cash cow called the Council. The staff there will ensure their children will have a job there, other's will be ignored.

The cash cow will generate fortunes for the fortunate who are positioned strategically within the corridors of power, to help themselves to planning permissions for houses and the new get rich schemed, the wind turbine.

We should be ashamed of ourselves, we have allowed this to happen, allowed ourselves and our families to have their lives and future denied them, their lives raped, by an evil entity, that thrives on greed, and feeds off the weak.

We are all powerless to stop anything, we signed up to this great Welsh Assembly without it's fat ugly mouth wanting to suck us all dry, and these Commissioners ensure it's fed on the blood and bones of the people of Anglesey.

It's time for us to act now, or we will be remembered as BETRAYING our own future.

mairede thomas said...

Richard Sletzer I agree with some of your sentiments, especially the quote from Edmund Burke. However it can never be right to take away peoples vote and there is no justification for cancelling this year's election on Ynys Mon.

Yes voters will sometimes get it wrong but they must be allowed to do that in a democracy. We only have one thing we can do to change the way we are governed and that is cast our vote. It's not much. But without that we only have revolution and anarchy.

Anonymous said...

The Council caused the revolution and helped breed anarchy, a vote for a duck egg is still a vote for a duck egg. People are frightened to speak out and speak up, don't be afraid, the Commissioner;s cannot polish this turd of a Council.
Blaming the People for voting in a shit Council is not the solution, the Council that we have is NOT what the people WANT. Cardiff know that, the Commissioners know that, there is NO solution to this mess.

Anonymous said...

Tomorrows newspaper will show how one particular councillor knows how to deal with our unfit for purpose, sham of a council.

Anonymous said...

It's difficult who is to blame first, Councillors or Officers, like the Chicken or the egg. One thing for sure, if the Council seems to be suffered from disrepute in the past, it's seen nothing yet.

If the minister for local government and the commissions don't get rid soon, then who knows how bad it will get.

Anonymous said...

"Tomorrows newspaper will show"

It's yesterday's tomorrow today, which newspaper should readers be looking at?

Seen it all now. said...

How will our loser of a Council get out of this brazen breach of Human Rights? Page 7, today's Holyhead & Anglesey Mail? They certainly picked on the wrong guy here.

How much is this fiasco costing the rate payers?

Who authorized the payments?

What are they trying to cover up?

What don't they want to come out?

Sack the bloody lot before it gets any worse.

Anonymous said...

Now we can all see what happens when our "Black Swan" steps up a gear, that why he is known in some quarters as "Exocet". He will let you go so far, enough to let you hang yourself & then .......

What ever he does, if it helps rid this council of its rot the people of Anglesey will be delighted.

Go for them Barrie the people of Anglesey is right behind you.

Fly On The Wall said...

When we think things couldn't get any worse for the council, It emerges this afternoon, not only did the council unlawfully broadcast through their own web site highly confidential information, which had no bearing on the complaints against him to the Ombudsman, but the council edited highly relevant documentation from the planning dept and PWC which concluded what Cllr Durkin was saying is true and fully supported his stance.

Now could that be construed as corruption in public office?

Anonymous said...

"Prejudicial" material removed from site.

It no good shutting the door after the bull has gone, the damage has been done, further to that. The standards committee who will be hearing the case has had a copy of the report and offending appendices for quite some time!

This fiasco has already cost the rate payers of Anglesey in excess of £100,000, without staff costs.

What will happen if or when Cllr Durkin sticks the council with a mega law suit?

The Welsh Assemble set this ball rolling by sending in David Bowles they and he should pay for the damage caused.

Maes Llwyn said...

There is corruption, there is incompetence, there is indifference in this Council....what is to become of this thoroghly rotten Council ?
We the electorate should feel a little better protected by the 5 Commissioners...but I wonder and worry about that.
Trouble is, the powers in Cardiff Bay don't know what to do next about the Anglesey Problem.
Nothing like Anglesey has happened before....there is no blueprint solution.
Radical thought .....suspend the entire Council.....disqualify all current Councillors from standing for re-election....give the Commissioners another 12 months as caretakers....hold a new election im May2013.....and hold our breath ! desperate thinking ?

In the Know. said...

Maes Llwyn.
Radical thoughts Indeed.
There is a much easier solution. Pick out the few rotten apples now and lets get on with the job.
Without them, I believe you would find quite an exemplary council.

Anonymous said...

"Page 7, today's Holyhead & Anglesey Mail? "

Is there an online version of that?

theonlinemail didn't have it (or maybe I couldn't see it) a few minutes ago... where should folk look?

Anonymous said...

The only solution I see is to dissolve IOACC and contract out the whole thing...maybe to one of the larger English councils.

I'm sure a contractor can make decisions as well as cutting the grass.

mairede thomas said...

I did wonder aloud on this site some months ago, about whether the developers for Wylfa B would pull the finance together in the current economic climate, and given that Germany has cancelled its nuclear power projects. And that is indeed what has been announced today!