Tuesday 23 April 2013

Caerphilly, accountability and re-organisation

Caerphilly Council is back in the news today with a vote of no confidence in the Council Leader. The row has arisen following the Wales Audit Office report which found that the circumstances surrounding the pay rise for the Chief Executive and senior managers was unlawful. The decision was taken at a closed meeting, the agenda item was not publicised and the Chief Executive, who had input into the report recommending the rise, did not withdraw from the meeting nor declare any financial interest. A compromise was eventually reached but the Chief Executive has now been suspended and the police are looking into the matter.

The political fall-out has resulted in today's no confidence vote where the Leader and his cabinet were accused of allowing this to happen on their watch. As this blog post has been sitting in draft for several hours I can now add that the vote was lost and Caerphilly's Leader remains in place. I followed the meeting on twitter for a while and noticed they were also discussing the damning Wales Audit Office report. In Caerphilly, at the very least, the question of accountability has been raised if not fully resolved to the satisfaction of all political colours.

In Carmarthenshire, as we know, the council will go through constitutional contortions to avoid any negative reports, or even vaguely negative stories being discussed either inside or outside the Chamber. The recent removal of urgent business from full council agenda; the requirement that seven councillors second a motion; the refusal to discuss ombudsman reports; threatening the local press; the 'discussion' of a crucial council motion on press freedom, 'in camera', between two officers and an Executive Board member...I could go on. And on.

This morning's BBC article also carries a table of Chief Executive pay across all 22 local authorities, but doesn't include additional extras such as Returning Officer fees etc. These figures add up to £3m, all bar the cost of a frugal night at Claridges, I wonder whether this furthers the idea of a dramatic reduction in the number of local authorities? There is also a huge difference in pay, given that the duties of a Chief Executive are virtually the same everywhere, and one could almost feel sorry for the poor chief officer of Blaenau Gwent. Executive pay has been called an 'easy target' but it all adds up, and given the army of Directors and, in the case of Carmarthenshire, two Assistant Chief Executives, there would certainly be savings to be made by reducing of the number of councils.
Carmarthenshire also has 74 councillors of course who, in 2012, took home £1.26m between them, £20,000 more than in 2011.

The arguments for and against re-organisation are complex and discussed far more eloquently elsewhere but with each individual council pursuing its own policies, programmes, LDPs, tendering frameworks etc etc, it would be a difficult, costly and painful process.

Collaboration with other authorities has been encouraged by the Welsh Government to 'streamline' services and reduce pressure on budgets but these are not always well thought through as Carmarthenshire has found with its IT 'strategy' with Dyfed Powys Police. The vision of a 'single entity' has been abandoned and, although there are examples of shared software, as well as a shared IT manager, the differing levels of data security, complex pay arrangements and the need to vet any council worker who may (or may not) use very sensitive shared data proved to be too costly and risky.

The principle of reducing Welsh local authorities, more or less back to the pre-1996 model is financially attractive and would perhaps help dilute the village mentality which pervades some of our council chambers. One big downside, in my opinion, could be even less democracy than we have already. Public participation is, in general, already negligible and the opportunity and ability to get your voice heard nigh on impossible. Any re-organisation would have to ensure that accountability, as well as the representation of public opinion, was not only carried forward to potentially huge sprawling organisations, but vastly improved from the dire state it is currently in.

Anyway, for information, here's the list of Chief Executive officers' pay from the BBC;

Carmarthenshire: £189,178
Cardiff: £176,376
Rhondda Cynon Taf: £171,000
Denbighshire: £160,141
Pembrokeshire £159,462
Neath Port Talbot: £154,525
Newport: £147,142
Swansea: £144,600
Anglesey: £141,138
Torfaen: £133,749
Caerphilly: £132,653
Flintshire: £131,233
Vale of Glamorgan: £127,133
Merthyr Tydfil: £125,437
Powys: £124,407
Bridgend: £122,323
Conwy: £114,435
Wrexham: £113,000
Monmouthshire: £110,000
Gwynedd: £108,264
Ceredigion: £108,084
Blaenau Gwent: £103,050.46

BBC Wales; Caerphilly council pay row: Leader faces no confidence motion

Update 25th April;
Plaid AM, Rhodri Glyn Thomas is seeking changes to the Local Democracy Bill which would take senior pay decisions "out of the hands of council officers and put it under the remit of an all-Wales independent remuneration body" and to "abolish extra payments for returning officers at local elections"


caebrwyn said...

Forgot to mention a bit of good news from neighbouring Pembrokeshire, a similar webcasting pilot will be starting soon and spending details over £500 will be published quarterly.

Anonymous said...

I am ashamed to admit that prior to the last election I voted Labour. Sadly, like many other sheeple I believed that they were the only party that could lift people out of the poverty trap.

In another blog a comment was made about the electorate who vote Labour as if they were on autopilot. The commentator goes on to say, "It doesn’t say much for the other parties, esp Plaid, that they can’t break the spell of these nonentities." To be fair, this person does have a point!

Since the last election, I have paid more attention to developments in CCC and local politics. Given the challenges and action taken by Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM and Jonathan Edwards MP thus far, Plaid are in pole position to receive my vote at the next election.