Friday, July 29, 2011

Common sense prevails – with a nudge from Mike

Well what do you know, it seems a mistake has been made by RCT Council, their arm’s length consultancy company Capita Symonds,  and their ‘preferred contractors’ for just about everything Costain.
The multi million pound makeover of the centre of Pontypridd town run into a slight problem a few weeks ago when a 25mm kerb was installed along a section of Mill Street which quickly became a hazard with a number of falls being reported. 
Trallwn’s Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell took up the case with Group Director George Jones who argued that disability groups had been consulted.  We did some checking of our own with representatives of Scope and the Guide Dogs association who came to the conclusion that these kerbs were benefiting nobody.
A press release was sent to the Pontypridd Observer and placed on our website on 17th July.  When it failed to appear we sent it again the following week.
In this week’s issue there was a report on the matter - which somehow failed to incorporate any comment from Mike at all (strangely a lot of our press releases seem to be ignored).
Today there appeared a press release on RCT Council website saying that
“This is a case where all the principles of good project management and design were followed including effective stakeholder consultation, but unfortunately the intended outcome was not as expected. As it happens the design can be amended to remove the up-stand without too much disruption and we can learn from the experience in terms of the design for the remainder of the town centre.”
In other words, somebody messed up.  Still at least they are learning lessons!!!
Mike is awaiting a response from the Director as to who made the decisions, who exactly they consulted, and who is going to pick up the tab for the extra work.  He’s not holding his breath,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A new way of Policing

I went along to the RCT Council meeting this evening, glutton for punishment that I am. Very interesting presentation from Chief Superintendent O’Neill of the South Wales Police on the ‘New Policing Model.”
There has been widespread concern recently over the proposed closure of numerous police stations throughout RCT with people understandably worried that the closure of these stations will lead to a drop in the level of local policing.
The Chief Super was at pains to explain that this is not the intention and that their focus is very much on front line policing rather than ploughing money into buildings that are underutilised by the public, and are in many cases not fit for purpose.
He stated that PCSOs at present spend on average only around 60% of their time on the streets, which he says is unacceptable. Technology means that all officers are now subject to GPS tracking and the plan is that this will enable those in the control room to ensure that officers are where they should be when they should be.
Together with changes in their operating methods officers should be spending less time at the station booking in those they have arrested.
In all he presented a very convincing argument for the changes – let’s hope it works.
Of course the Labour Councillors couldn’t resist the temptation for a dig at the ‘evil empire’ as leader Russell Roberts likes to refer to the Westminster coalition. Will the cuts affect the level of service one asked?  ‘No’ came the reply.  Has the loss of the local partnership budget had a detrimental effect on the service? ‘No’ once again came the answer.
We will be watching progress with interest but the idea of less money poured into unfit premises and more into front line policing seems a very sensible one

Well said that man

I know he’s a Tory but I do quite like Boris Johnson, and it seems he surrounds himself with aides who are equally as forthright in their opinions.
As reported by the BBC Guto Harri has put Carwyn Jones firmly in his place with regard to his recent bleating about how Wales is not getting enough benefit from the Olympics with regard to hosting events and businesses cashing in.
As Guto points out devolution is supposed to put responsibility as well as power into the hands of the Welsh Government.  What did the Labour – Plaid coalition do to attract more events to Wales?  What help and advice did they give to businesses?
"Did Carwyn, did the other people around him, do enough to offer Wales as a location for different things…………did Welsh politicians make a proper pitch?"
One may well ask.  He goes on to point out
“The days of sitting in Cardiff complaining about what governments in London are doing to Wales have long gone.  Wales now has a medium to behave like an adult, not like a small child complaining.”
Quite right too. 
It seems to be the Labour response to everything – to blame the evil Westminster Government for anything and everything and to abdicate all responsibility for things that are ultimately the responsibility of their Welsh Government Ministers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Big Weekend gets big thumbs down from residents

Ponty’s Big Weekend took place on July 24rd and 24th with The Wanted headlining on the Saturday and a ‘free’ concert on Sunday festering acts including Rhondda girl Sophie Evans.
The complaints have been rolling in thick and fast – not about the quality of the concerts, but about the rip off that many people see them to be.
People entering the Park were told they were not allowed to take food in – this had not been mentioned on the RCT website or the Big Ponty website nor indeed was it stated on the tickets. Bottled water was allowed through the gate, but bottles of pop were confiscated.  This to ensure attendees were forced to buy from the vendors inside.
So who benefitted - local traders?  Did this event contribute to the economy of Pontypridd?  NO.
The vendors inside were all from out of the area and indeed outside of Wales it seems and the prices have been described as little short of extortionate.
And this was not the only complaint – or the first time this event has attracted criticism.
As reported in the Pontypridd Observer last year local residents were furious that the entire Park was cut off for this concert to take place, and the fact that the town does not benefit economically at all from this or other such events.
When will the Labour administration in RCT learn? 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Small victories count too

A while ago I mentioned that there was a complaint being put before RCT Standards Committee after the then Mayor of RCT during a particularly boisterous evening in the Council Chamber told Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell to "sit down and give your arse a chance."

Now I am sure Mike would agree that is not the first time people make have thought that!! but it is hardly appropriate for the so called first citizen of this County Borough to say such a thing whilst chairing a public meeting.

It is with no small sense of satisfaction then that this week's Council meeting has on the agenda the Standards Committee report which informs Members of the decision to reprimand Simon Lloyd for his behaviour.

A small victory to be sure,  but a satisfying one nonetheless given the sheer arrogance of the Labour party here.  Maybe they will start abiding by their own 'local protocol' now.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ghosties and Ghoulies and other strange hapenings

One of the strange headlines to catch my attention this week  was this one:
“Irene Allen, head of Spirit Rescue International (SRI) in Carmarthenshire, told Wales on Sunday that Llanelli is one of a few “hotbeds” of paranormal activity in the world – and is “swimming” with negative energy”
Hmmmm – could this be why the Scarlets have been performing so poorly lately – they are somehow under the influence of evil phantoms, probably the ghosts of former Cardiff players determined to bring down the boys in red. 
Ms Allen claims she has been seeing ghosts since the age of six, in a similar fashion to the boy in “Sixth Sense.”
So next time you hear strange noises and objects moving about who you going to call? Yes, Spirit Rescue International.

Ruby the pony has a new home I am sure everyone will be glad to know. 
Ruby hit the headlines when her owner tried to take her on a train – apparently he wanted to take her to the hospital because dear Ruby is pregnant.  Aaaahhhhh!
Now the four legged celebrity has been taken into care.  Probably for the best – I hear some of those trains have no loos or buffet cars and are in a terrible state!


Meanwhile the Pontypridd Observer carries the story of the woman who  put my pet on a diet and lost five stone”
‘Alyson King, 49, of Pontypridd, started Lucky her golden Labrador on the slimming regime after realising he was getting too roly-poly.

But Alyson decided to help Lucky by joining in the “more exercise and no treats” doggy-diet – and shed all her middle-aged “puppy fat” too’
Lucky apparently shed two stone and is now a fit 6 stone.  His owner went from seventeen and a half to twelve and a half stone.  She said
“He is literally like a different dog, in personality, body shape and health. Obesity is a growing problem amongst UK pets. But this is a great example of what can be achieved and we hope this will inspire others to make a positive change to their pets’ lifestyles.”

Well who’d have thunk it?  Eat less and exercise more and you lose weight.  Amazing.  Maybe some people could try that with their children.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Three jobs Russell – or is it four....... Or five?

As reported in the Rhondda Leader this week Councillor Russell Roberts, Labour leader of RCT Council,  has been re-elected as chairman of South Wales Police Authority.  What a relief it must be for him in these trying times to know that he can still rely on topping up the mere £57785 a year he earns as leader of the Council with a generous dollop of cash from the Police Authority.
It is unfortunate for him that the Government had announced an end to Police Authorities as from next May – how will he cope?
As Chair of the Police Authority he earns a tasty £23,554.99 a year.  The annual report shows he has attended 37 out of 38 meetings, but even if he had managed them all that would have amounted to £619 per meeting.
Nice work if you can get it.  And a very nice top up to what should be a full time salary in return for a full time commitment to RCT Council. 
He did of course take a pay cut in recent times when he stopped being the Chair of Cwm Taf Health Board.  He still sits on that body.
He is also been elected as the chairman of the Police Authorities of Wales – I am not sure of that comes with even more money.  And just to keep him occupied he is the Deputy leader of the WLGA.
How does he find the time to run the Council?  Still I am sure he is worth every penny

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Will you take an intervention Mr Antoniw??

Mick Antoniw the AM for Pontypridd unsurprisingly voted against reinstating Welsh Liberal Democrat AM Aled Roberts on 6th July.  All for the best of reasons no doubt, because, just like Brutus, he is an honourable man.
Antoniw’s contribution to the debate is a matter of public record – thought I would add a couple of intervention points of my own!
Mick Antoniw: This debate is not about our personal feelings for an individual who stood for election but has been unable to take up a seat because of the National Assembly for Wales (Disqualification) Order 2010: it goes well beyond that.
Yes, isn’t it true that the member for Pontypridd is basing his response more on pure political spite
It is about an important point of constitutional law that has serious implications for this new Assembly and legislature. It is also about the credibility and integrity of this body and the Welsh Government.
Are you sure that you are in a position to take such moral high ground? After all you were the Director of a firm that conned miners out of thousands of pounds worth of compensation, and were fined for such by your regulatory body, and then tried desperately to deny it to your own party members than anything else?
The first undisputed fact is that, under section 18 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, he was disqualified from standing as an Assembly Member, which I understand is not disputed even by the person himself.
Unlike your transgression which you strongly disputed despite the clear evidence to the contrary. Is it not the case that you even had a colleague threaten me with legal action for reporting the truth?
What we decide may be subject to legal challenge by way of judicial review by an interested party.
Despite legal advice you have been given that says that overturning the disqualification is perfectly legal and proper?  
In considering this motion, I have put aside all interests other than what is the right decision and what is right to preserve the integrity and credibility of the Assembly.
I refer the not so honourable gentleman to my earlier comment re integrity.
I have reluctantly ( you are kidding me) come to the conclusion that we should not exercise our discretion in this case, and I will be voting against the motion. (what a surprise)
It is clear that an individual candidate is responsible for ensuring that he is entitled to stand. (quite right, a modicum of sense at last.)
He may (MAY) consult with a variety of bodies—his political party, his agent, bodies such as the Electoral Commission, and, if necessary, his solicitor; but it also recommends consulting the legislation, or, if necessary, taking independent legal advice.
Why would any reasonable minded person doubt the advice coming from the body set up to regulate elections and give advice? The Electoral Commission staff are paid to give advice – they failed to give accurate advice.  Did you consult a solicitor Mr Antoniw?
Turning to the exercise of our discretion, I am clear in my mind that it is a discretion that should be exercised rarely and with caution, and that there have to be substantial reasons. I do not believe that circumstances in this case would justify the exercise of this discretion.
So being given totally out of date and inaccurate information is not a good enough reason?
Apart from the reasons that I have already mentioned, if we exercised our discretion in this way it would drive a coach and horses through the disqualification Order.
Why?  You have already been advised that it is perfectly legal to do so.  In fact the report says as near as damn it that is what you should do.
We will also have set a precedent.  (heaven forbid we should do that)
We are a new legislature and we must take the consequences of our decision seriously. We cannot set aside a Crown Order just because we might like to do so. (No but you can if the rules allow you to do so.)
Setting aside the Order in these circumstances would……have consequences for future elections and would undermine the clarity in procedure and law that is essential for our electoral process.
No Mick, what undermined the clarity in procedure was the incompetence of the Electoral Commission in failing to provide accurate information.)

When you’re in a hole stop digging

Someone should surely remind the Electoral Commission in Wales of that.  They have got themselves in deep enough, they really ought to just show some grace and shut up now.
There was a huge sigh of relief yesterday when Welsh Liberal Democrat AM Aled Roberts had his disqualification overturned at the Assembly – albeit tinged with regret over the situation as a whole and the loss of John Dixon.
However, anyone right thinking person who read the report produced at the request of the Presiding Officer would surely come to the conclusion that justice has been seen to be done in Aled’s case.
The Electoral Commission have messed up big time here, and instead of putting their hands in the air and just admitting they made an error they are making themselves appear even more incompetent.
Following the publication of the Gerard Elias report the Commission issued a statement it said that
It is important that all guidance published by the Electoral Commission is accurate and trusted and as today’s report identifies there were mistakes made by the Commission in the issuing of our guidance for the May 2011 election.”

Once the Commission became aware of the change to the Order, the relevant English language guidance for candidates “Can you stand for election?” was updated on our website on 11 March”

“However, the Welsh language version of the guidance for candidates was not updated ahead of the election. We regret and apologise for this very rare error.” 

They should have left it at that.  Instead they decided after the vote was taken to start making waves.

As reported by the BBC,
“following the vote to lift the disqualification, the Commission says statistics suggest nobody visited the website although it also said its data-collecting methods were not wholly reliable.
Spokesman Rhydian Thomas told BBC Wales's CF99 programme on S4C: "Now this is not some kind of forensic analysis, it is possible that someone looked at it and it didn't register."
Mr Thomas said the Commission had gathered statistics on how many hits the document received in Welsh and English. He added:
 "The English version, to give an example, received around 143 hits. But the Welsh version, from what we see, not one person looked at the document or downloaded the document

So if their statistisc are not reliable, why bring it up?  Why tell Mr Elias one thing and then dispute it afterwards?
But the plot thickens,  As reported by Betsan Powys the Electoral Commission then release another statement which said

"The commission apologised on Thursday to the Welsh Assembly and Aled Roberts for the mistakes we made. We fully accept the conclusions of Mr Elias' report and have nothing to add to the statement we have already made.
"On the television programme CF99 last night, the commission gave information about usage of its Welsh language website in response to a specific question from a journalist about visits to our website.
"We provided the website statistics, along with an explanation about them, to Gerard Elias as part of his investigation. As we made clear to Mr Elias we do not believe they are a reliable guide to whether or not individuals used our website and this is reflected in the conclusions in his report."
Unbelievable – are the people there actually communicating with each other at all?  It would seem the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
It has resulted in yet more unnecessary anxiety for Aled and his family, and allowed people’s opinions of this body to slip even further.  BBC headlines today report
The elections watchdog has been criticised for its handling of the case of a disqualified Welsh assembly member.”
The Electoral Commission describe themselves as
“an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the democratic process.”
There will not be much public confidence left in the process unless this whole issue is addressed.
Will somebody please take the shovels away.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Where’s the talk of savage cuts now then?

Yet another example of the Unions overwhelming political bias.  The Western Mail today reports that the Welsh Government may close some of its regional offices with a possible loss of up to 400 jobs.
How does the PVS react?  Are they threatening to take to the streets, are they raging against the savage cuts being imposed by Labour? Of course not. Instead Peter Harris who is PCS Wales Secretary and the lead negotiator with the Welsh Government said
“I welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to continue to provide a dispersed presence across Wales. The opening of offices in Merthyr, Aberystwyth and Llandudno Junction were supported by the unions and helped devolve work from Cardiff. The movement of staff to these locations has been underpinned by the principles of no unwelcome compulsory redundancies or enforced transfers.
“Further estate rationalisation should proceed in the same way. We are not opposing any change and indeed a number of small offices have already been merged or closed.”

I think I would feel severely under-changed if I were a member of theirs working in one of these locations.  He went on to say:
“unwelcome compulsory redundancies could result in a dispute with the Welsh Government. Despite the financial squeeze, however, I believe a dispute can be avoided if there is a willingness to protect jobs and services in rural areas.”

Saturday, July 02, 2011

State of the Union

I used to be pretty non-committal with regard to Unions – the only one I have ever belonged to is the Students Union – and I generally have a fairly ‘do-as-you-please’ attitude to people, a liberal attitude one may say!
I’ve never been happy about their role as bed fellows to and the driving force behind the Labour Party believing that trade unions should be non-political, and that if large groups of people want to move this country in a particular political direction then they should do it under their own banner.  But it has been little more than a mild annoyance.
Lately that is turning into an anger that is bordering on the irrational.  The mere mention of the word Union is likely to set me off on a rant of significant proportions.  Indeed I have been moved to write to the local press on several occasions lately on the subject of Unions and particularly the relationship of the Labour AM for Pontypridd with said Unions!
Just to clarify my position, I am not against trade unions per se - I am all for advocacy for workers. However, less than 30% of workers actually belong to a trade union, and their influence is in my view unreasonable.
So what has caused my latest episode of angst? Well it is the story today on the BBC which reports ‘Unions criticise plan to cut school trip red tape’
Now I must admit I am not a huge fan of Education Secretary Michael Gove, I think some of his ideas are bonkers to put it mildly. But his plans to cut the red tape involved in organising schools trips sounds to me like an excellent idea.  No more filling in of hundreds of forms and writing of unnecessary risk assessment plans to go on a picnic down the local park (in England!).
But are the teaching unions happy?  No of course not – although no doubt if Leighton announced a similar plan here they would kiss his feet (or somewhere) and hail him a hero.
At present guidelines on the organising of school trips run to 150 pages.  How ridiculous is that?  When I was in school, admittedly a few years ago now, we used to go on school trips – we managed to get through them without any loss of life or limb, or indeed of children.  They were fun.
Now it is so much hassle to take children out of school that often teachers are put off by it.  Many teachers would probably agree that the red tape needs to be cut down.  The Unions are as usual just making political points.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Standards Simon, standards!

I have mentioned on here previously the nonsense that goes on in the Council Chamber at RCT with the Labour Councillors and their rabble rousing behaviour.  Some months ago the Labour group voted in favour of introducing a new members protocol. 
One of its aims was to stop our Councillors (and our then Assembly candidate Mike Powell in particular) from dealing with problems outside of their own wards. They decided that Councillors should
 Work with Members of adjoining wards for the benefit of the locality.
 If dealing with any matter relating to another ward:
     Explain to anyone seeking assistance that he/she is not the local Member.
     Inform the local Member, unless it would lead to a breach of confidentiality.
The protocol also included guidelines on how members should behave in meetings.  There they should:
 Behave with dignity.
 Show respect to the Chairman and obey his/her decisions.
 not to use indecent language nor make racial remarks or remarks which     
     Prejudice any section of society.

Next week the first case goes before Standards Committee for a breach of this code – by a Labour member (the then Mayor / Chairman in fact).   The complaint has been brought by Welsh Liberal Democrat Cllr Mike Powell.  I was present at the meeting referred to in the complaint and was quite frankly disgusted by the behaviour exhibited by the person supposedly in charge of proceedings.  Oddly enough the Mayor was unwell for every one of the remaining meetings during his term of office!
The Labour group really are a disgrace.  Maybe this is what they have to hide

One night in Wrexham

The story of the week this week - second only to the tale of escaped cows taking over a Tredegar street – has to be the unintentional meeting of Edwina Hart with MPs on the select committee on Welsh affairs.
As reported by David Cornock, “It was either an amazing coincidence or someone in Welsh politics has a mischievous sense of humour.”
Just in case anyone is unaware of the background a row broke out last week when it was revealed that that Ms Hart, Labour Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science Minister had refused to meet with the Commons Welsh Affairs committee. Members of the Welsh Affairs committee - all but two of whom represent constituencies in Wales - offered to travel to Cardiff Bay to meet her on September 15.  Apparently Ms Hart sent the committee a two-sentence response to their request which simply, and rather rudely, stated: “I will not be attending
In answer to an oral question in the Siambr on the 23rd June she was equally scathing
Andrew R.T. Davies: Engagement with people is a vital plank for encouraging inward investment and competitiveness within the Welsh economy. Do you think that your letter to the Welsh Affairs Committee was therefore an appropriate answer to a committee from another place that was looking to help you with your ministerial responsibilities to attract more business into Wales? Could you explain why you feel unable to meet with that committee?
Edwina Hart: I am required to look very carefully at all invitations that I receive in respect of my portfolio. The Welsh Affairs Committee has also written to me about issues around broadband, and I am happily sending it written evidence on that, because it is a matter that needs to be dealt with jointly across the UK. However, the economy is my responsibility in Wales, and I think that I am capable of doing my job

So when she walked into the dining room of the Ramada hotel in Wrexham to find those very same committee members sat there she must have surely been looking out for Jeremy Beadle to appear.  No doubt some SPAD came in for some harsh words when she returned to the safety of the Bay Bubble.
The arrogance of this woman is quite astonishing.  In her previous incarnation as Minister for Health she refused to accept any responsibility for any of the multitudinous problems within the health service, despite making it very clear that she was in charge!  Now she is so confident in her own ability to rejuvenate the economy of Wales that she is unwilling to meet with MPs who presumably have the same aim in mind.
 For all our sakes let's hope she is as good as she thinks she is.

What is there to hide?

As reported in the Western Mail Conservative AM William Graham has laid a Statement of Opinion calling for the Assembly to encourage local authorities in Wales

“to permit the recording and broadcasting of all council meetings that are designated open to the public wherever possible, and acknowledges the good practice already undertaken by many local authorities in Wales which have embraced social networking and internet broadcasting to increase transparency and communication with their constituents.”

This follows an incident at a Carmarthenshire Council meeting recently where a blogger was removed by the police when she tried to film proceedings.

As mentioned in an earlier post Rhondda Cynon Taff Council’s Labour administration,  voted in May to ban the taking of photos, blogging, tweeting, or anything else of that nature, by Councillors or anyone in the public gallery.

Compare this with Welsh Liberal Democrat led Cardiff Council who webcast all their Council meetings.  This is of course Welsh Lib Dem policy following a conference motion proposed by RCT Lib Dems.

No Labour AMs have signed up to Mr Graham’s SOP – what a surprise!