Sunday 4 September 2016

A few thoughts on the Cilycwm by-election

Update 7th September; Carmarthen Journal;
Blogger Jacqui Thompson to fight election for Carmarthenshire councillor seat 

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What prompts and encourages someone to stand as councillor? It is, or it should be, a desire to embark on public service and become a voice for the people you represent. It is this, the experience I have gained and the observations I have made which bring me to this point today. I conclude, from my observations over seven years, that this area of north Carmarthenshire has had a raw deal from the County council. It has largely been ignored. There are also wider issues, most notably the way the county council has, and is being run, which still needs to be addressed.

So where do I start. How about our councillors, the democratic wing of the empire. Let's go local, as it's by-election time. What happened to our local primary schools, to Pantycelyn secondary school? I have not spoken to a single soul who wanted these to close. Senior council officers had a plan though, and nothing was going to get in the way, least of all public opinion. The public believed that their local county councillors would champion their cause, instead there was a deafening silence. No passion, no threatened resignations if the school closed, no presenting public petitions, no bugger all in fact. And worse still, no one was the least bit surprised.

Let's go back further and consider the Parc y Scarlets fiasco. The same, a bit of flannel from the chief executive and like nodding dogs, the councillors ensured that the taxpayer became saddled with a vanity project which would never break even, let alone make a profit. The fact that the auditors had been called in to Mr James' previous stadium vision, in Boston, seemed to pass everyone by. And as for our local sports facilities, playgrounds and parks, they're being offloaded, charges increased and failing that, potentially sold off to developers.

I say everyone, that's not quite true, over the years there have been persistent, vocal campaigners, one or two councillors, most notably Cllr Caiach, of course. From protesting over the closure of care homes to trying to bring some element of scrutiny to the more barking mad decisions, ombudsman and audit reports, how have they all fared? Badly. Smear and division is the preferred tactic, supported by whatever puppet executive board is currently courting favour, and whoever can be bought with the promise of a special responsibility allowance.

Critics, not just me, have had their say, most recently it was the former police commissioner, Christopher Salmon who, after four years, reached the conclusion he'd been dealing with a "Sicilian cartel", not a county council, adding "It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors".The former lay member of the audit committee, Sir David Lewis also observed that the council's internal legal advice was "cavalier at best, incompetent at worst" .

Only yesterday, another candidate for this election, Matthew Paul mentioned the chief executive in the same breath as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, this was published in the Herald, and the Herald itself hasn't minced it's words over the past year.

I have not, therefore, been the only critic of the council and manner in which the chief executive conducts business. One of the most bizarre incidents had to be the #daftarrest episode back in 2011, a perfect example of the misuse of power. Mr James called the police because I was quietly filming a meeting. On his authority I was only released from custody after I signed an agreement not to film any more meetings. I don't know who was more puzzled by the whole business, me or the police. They did contact Mr James some weeks later and told him, in so many words, that they wouldn't do his dirty work again.

But then, back in early April this year, they found themselves in the same position. With, I'm sure, more important things to do, they found themselves having to spend months trawling through some woman's blog. In the end they could do nothing more than give me a letter, which, I am now publicly challenging.

At the moment we're heading for Parc Y Scarlets Mark II, the funnelling of council money (and the already depleted resources of the NHS) into private health care and a luxury spa, the Wellness Thing. In classic style, no one was asked, no one consulted. And by no one, I mean you and me. Shiny plans and exiting artists impressions may pad out the pages of Mr James' CV for when he moves on, I'm sure the Boston Stadium plans impressed Meryl back in 2001, but it'll be a costly CV for the rest of us.

But still, the show rumbles on. The desperately dysfunctional Labour group made the unforgivable error of speaking out against a massive golden handshake for Mr James (there was an election round the corner). Sometime later Plaid mysteriously joined with Meryl and Pam as Labour crumbled. Plaid, up until that moment, had been a fairly vocal opposition, some of them were causing problems for Mr James, what better way of dealing with a problem than by bringing it into the fold, with conditions attached naturally, and in the case of Emlyn Dole, having your memory erased.

The Labour/Independent Group administration, responsible for the whole unlawful payments scandal, a private company having its debts cleared with public money, the mysteries of Meryl's grants, the chief executive's attempts to threaten and control the local press, the dire treatment of whistleblowers, the contempt for regulators, the snooping of emails, the cosy arrangements, and the spin....moved seamlessly into the Plaid Cymru/Independent Group coalition.

Council services from social care to leisure are being outsourced by the back door which will not only remove democratic oversight but will also see amenities which run at a loss, for example the swimming pool in Llandovery, quietly close. Massive cuts to education are on the cards, over £12m over the next two years. The council is in debt to the tune of £376m, (even more than me), and that costs £17.6m a year in interest, £100 per man woman and child in the county, per year. The top rank of senior officials costs £1.2m a year and that's without any legal expenses they may be inclined to incur.

Which all brings me back to the reasons for standing as a candidate. For instance, every penny of public money being poured into the latest addition to the Mark and Meryl Empire is a penny less to spend where it's needed, for example, in this very ward.
Someone, hopefully me, needs to fight our corner. Enough is enough.

I believe I have exposed much that is wrong with our democratic arrangements here and there, and shone a light now and again. As a result of my campaigning, meetings are now being webcast for one thing. I am what it says on the tin, to borrow Council leader Dole's catchphrase. No one, not even council by-election candidates can, or indeed should, promise to perform miracles, they can only offer to do their best and be open about themselves.
Funnily enough Kevin Madge had a catchphrase as well, waking up and smelling the coffee. It must be a Council leader thing, sadly Cllr Dole is wrong, things in County Hall are never quite what they are on the tin and Cllr Madge never really woke up.

As a candidate I am aware that the machine must keep turning, bins must be emptied and our children educated, and the issues I have with the council are by the by, I will sort them out in my own way. However, I feel that the Chamber needs new voices, and sometimes those that decide to play monopoly with your money should be held to account and ensure that everything is being done for the benefit of residents, and no one else, and most of all, if I am elected, for the benefit of residents of my area.
And the one thing I can promise, is that I will do it with passion.

(Later post 12th September 2016: Cilycwm by-election - Election statements


Anonymous said...

I think even Mark James will have sneaking admiration for your tenacity.

Unknown said...

Very, very well put Jacqui. I really hope the residents of Cilycwm will at least allow you until the next full County Council next year to prove you are worth a punt. Are you going to print out copies of this blog to hand out? I went to Llansadwrn primary school back in the day when a Mr Jones was headmaster and we could use an old water pump in the yard to obtain drinking water at play time. Then about a 2.5 mile walk home after school back to our small holding. Shame the school has had to close. I wish you well Jacqui and if I lived in the Cilycwm constituency I'd be pushing your leaflets through letter boxes plus you'd get my family's vote. Hwyl dda! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Good luck to you Jacqui - we need more councillors of your calibre, Christopher Salmon was absolutely correct when he likened this council to a cicilian cartel. One department which needs to be cleaned up is the planning department. When certain people have to apply for planning permission and change of use for a few horses, when others do not, something is seriously wrong. When some are pursued through the courts for three mobile stables and others are allowed to run their large commercial equine business from their holding without planning and change of use and even get away without paying business rates, it confirms the cartel is operating very well. It desperately needs disinfecting. The Cicilian Cartel is alive and kicking.

Tessa said...

Very well said! Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

We certainly need more people with some backbone like yourself Jacqui to expose the underhand workings by some of those at County Hall. For far too long especially when it comes to planning issues there has been a culture that has been allowed to procreate over many years that makes the rules up on the hoof regardless of the law of the land. Any criticism is not entertained regardless of what is right procedure or wrong. Answerable to nobody. If the elected members of Council and Government were so keen to be transparent in their dealings then only a Public Enquiry over the workings of said Council could bring about a change so long overdue.Peoples lives are being seriously affected by the total lack of consistency and transparency of the decision makers. They must be called to account. The sooner the better, only then can faith be restored. Cardiff Bay need to pull the head out of the sand and walk the walk,not just hope it passes by them. Man up and show some backbone and help restore faith and trust in our local Council.The local elections are not that far off, so don't sit on your hands any more. Stand up and put your heads above the parapet,at least you will be appreciated and not held up to everlasting ridicule.

Wavell said...

Nice to see that some of our local press are also "waking up" at last.
They have slept long enough on this CCC saga.
Keep it going, the public need to know what is going on and they are certainly not getting any information from their council representatives (aka Nodding Donkeys).

Anonymous said...

Has the Dole Hairdressers opened yet ?
Or is it in the throes of change of use from commercial to domestic ?

Just thinking to myself again.

Anonymous said...

If you are the successful candidate, Mr James will be sure to abide by the officers' code of conduct and show the mutual respect between employees and the members that is essential for good local government. And you will have the right to ask questions in Council without having to receive his royal permission, and the right of reply. Things might be about to get interesting.

Anonymous said...

Tell that to Cllr Sian Caiach, Anon @22.34! The treatment regularly meted out to her in council meetings is nothing short of rude, insulting and disgraceful and, if Jacqui succeeds in winning a seat in the Chamber, I don't expect she'll be treated any better. NO-ONE is allowed to question the status quo!

Anonymous said...

The problem lies with all the councillors who hear nothing see nothing and say nothing. If more councillors spoke up Sian would not be subjected to such rudeness. I blame the other councillors for her treatment because their silence condones this conduct.

Unknown said...

Well said Anon 08:23!

Anonymous said...

Great read, well said. Good luck.