Friday, October 28, 2011

Labour in RCT - Guardians of the public purse

Yep must be an election on the horizon.  What a load of absolute bull.  So the procurement unit has done its job and endeavoured to provide value for money.  Halleluiah put the flags out.  What next, will they be using Tesco coupons to buy their £2.30 a packet printer paper?
This is a made up ‘Friday afternoon and we’ve put nothing out what can we say to show we earn our crust (or million pounds a year salaries) in the Strategy and public Relations Department.’
It then goes on to list some of the wondrous things RCT Council are doing for the public they serve with such respect.
Do me a favour – pass the sick bucket.
‘Over £200m is set to be spent in coming years as the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools programme is rolled out. Again, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has taken a regional lead to ensure contractors appointed for all work relating to the scheme are procured consistently, to produce savings and protect local employment.’
Now this is the same Council who hired Costain to build the Porth bypass - estimated cost around £37m end cost around £98m.  But they did such a good job of coming in on time and on budget (!!!) that they gave them the contract for the Church Village bypass. 
That similarly trebled in cist and was also downgraded from a dual to single carriageway. (It did have some lovely Dormouse bridges mind).  But they did such a good job that the Council gave them the contract for the works in Pontypridd Town centre.  This includes Mill Street where they messed up the pedestrianised area by putting  a lip on the pavement that was too big an obstacle for wheelchair users, not helpful to the visually impaired, and had able bodied people falling over it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

RAG raging - but against what, and why?

I mentioned a few days ago a new residents ‘action’ group which is being set up in RCT and how easy it is for such groups to rant and rave about perceived wrongs without really offering any constructive options for change. 
There is often a kind of romantic ideal behind such groups, and whilst they are usually set up with good intentions then they rarely offer any real long term solutions.
Just because an individual stands under the banner of an ‘Independent’ or some group identity doesn’t mean they have any more integrity than someone who belongs to a political party, and it really angers me that they peddle this self-serving holier than though crap when the evidence to the contrary is staring them in the face.
Take the current Independent County Councillor for Talbot Green for example – he has been suspended on two occasions from the Council for his disgraceful behaviour towards members of the public.  The same public he is supposedly elected to represent! 
The former Independent Councillor for Brynna recently joined the Labour party, having backed them for years in absolutely everything they wanted to do.  This in return for the golden handcuffs which came in the form of the Chair of Overview & Scrutiny and the nice pay cheque that accompanies the position.
And elsewhere look at the mess the Independent group in Blaenau Gwent have got themselves into 
Then there was the Independent Councillor who claimed child care allowance when he was at home with the daughter he claimed for.
A discussion has been taking place on a local forum about the RCT RAG (residents’ action group!) and what they stand for.  I stopped posting on this particular forum some considerable time ago when it became somewhat of a battleground for militant Plaidies in particular to try and get their failing message across, but I still read it from time to time.
One point of view made me smile given that us Welsh Lib Dems are always being accused of being a contrary bunch and saying different things in different areas! 
There are, of course, Councillors who represent as fully and honestly as they can the people who elected them but all too often the wants and needs of the political party come long before the people. Too often hobbled by party rule books and national manifestos written by individuals at desks in ivory towers far removed from grass-root reality the resultant 'policies' are applied by faithful and elected local party members no matter how unfit for purpose and/or detrimental they are.
Add to this the fact that I doubt the majority of our Councillors could espouse our policies never mind be tied to them.  Can anyone imagine Mike Powell being made to vote according to a dictate from head office?
One contributor summed up my thoughts well
Is there more to this movement that I'm missing? It seems as though the rallying issue around which the group is coagulating is councillor pay/perks and the way pay cuts have been handled within RCT. Now, I'm not saying that I disagree with you on those issues but it's not a particularly inspiring or hopeful message. It's easy to knock doors, stir up a river of bile and just castigate all politicians as all being as bad as one another. What do you actually hope to achieve?
It is indeed easy to criticize.  What is not so easy is to do something constructive.  And to try and paint all who belong to any political party as being the same is just plain wrong.
The person behind the movement says that people are “Fed up to the back teeth and angry beyond measure.”
Really?  In that case why did they revert to their red roots in such numbers last May and vote Labour in yet again?  Is is easy to find people who are angry about individual issues but no so easy to put that anger to good use

As for nonsense such as this

'The way that health services are being run down and simply removed on occasions. I keep quoting these because they're easy to bring to mind but really there are so many other issues too that no-one seems to be shouting about and rectifying’

We have been shouting about it for a long time.  Take a read through our website. The problem is that nobody is listening.  Including it seems the members of RAG who are so up in arms about everything.
I don’t doubt that the people behind RAG are well intentioned, but their naivety is obvious.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

You get what you vote for

Before the May election we warned that staff shortages were having an adverse effect on hospital services in this area.
Our candidate for Pontypridd Mike Powell issued a press release which expressed concern over the future of some services at the Royal Glamorgan hospital following reports from employees there that staff shortages are resulting in a fall in service provision.

"Some time ago it was rumored that the A&E department at the Royal Glamorgan was to be closed and services moved to Merthyr. At the time those rumours were proved to be groundless. However, in October last year cutbacks were made in services at the minor injury units at Aberdare and Llwynypia because of a lack of suitably qualified staff.

I have recently had several members of staff at the Royal Glamorgan contact me with concerns that this is just the start and that continued problems may result in the closure of the department."

Cwm Taf Health Board stated twelve months ago that there were on-going recruitment problems and that they could not continue with their previous methods of using overtime and agency staff in the long term.
Nobody appeared overly concerned – the press release, as with so many, was ignored by the local Labour leaning press, we were dismissed as scaremongering.
Now residents – as reported in the Rhondda Leader and by Wales online – are up in arms because, guess what?  Staff shortages are forcing the closure of the minor injuries unit
Cwm Taf Health Board said it has been forced to close the service because it is struggling to recruit doctors to work in the Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospital A&E departments.
Another two doctors will leave A&E at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, in Llantrisant, this month

Well I hate to say this, but you do get what you vote for.
Far too many people fell in line and stayed true to their red roots, they voted for a Labour party who promised them they were still the party of the people, on their side.  That they and only they could protect the education of their children, their free bus passes, their welfare benefits, their jobs, and yes their health service.
Well you know who got us into this state?
You’ve guessed it – the good old on the side of the common people Labour Party.  Well done to everyone who let them get away with it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tango man trying too hard to make political capital

Some people really will do anything and take advantage of any tragedy to make political points.
Like Tango man himself Peter Hain who this week made a bit of  a fool of himself calling for better funding for mines rescue following the Gleision colliery incident in which four miners were killed.
He said
"The Gleision mine tragedy in September 2011 identified a potentially lethal flaw in the resourcing of the Mines Rescue Service and the South Wales Police Authority which the Government needs urgently to address.
‘Otherwise, should there be another tragedy, both the rescue and investigation could be badly compromised: only goodwill prevented that happening at Gleision’
Mr Hain claimed the rescuers, and later police and health and safety inspectors, ‘depended upon the release by other mining companies of their part-time mines rescue staff as well as other key mining personnel’.
Indeed no-one would disagree that the Mines Rescue service as always did a remarkable job and it is a service well worth the investment.  However thankfully such tragedies are now rare.  What exactly does Mr Hain want? 
The Mines Rescue Service said that finance in no way compromised the rescue and it was commonplace for other mines to help out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pull the other one Owen, it's got bells on.

Seems Pontypridd MP Owen Smith is anxious to make an impression in his new role as Shadow Treasury Secretary.
On a visit to GE Aviation in his own constituency (despite the ‘North of Cardiff’ description given by Walesonline) he busied himself giving advice to the UK Government on of all things the economy.
He reportedly said that the Government had embarked on an ideologically driven deficit reduction plan, which was hampering Britain’s growth prospects and was wrong to assume that job losses in the public sector would be absorbed by job creation in the private sector.
He said: “We don’t think there is evidence that in places like Wales there is going to be a massive boom in private sector employment unless there is collaboration with government.”
Places like Wales????  I beg your pardon.
You mean with a devolved Labour Government with a Labour Minister for Economic Development? A Government that has failed Wales?  Just like the Labour Westminster Government failed in their 13 years in power.
But then what would Owen know of places like Wales; and how they were affected by years of Labour underperformance on the economy as in so many other areas.  He was at the time roaming around in his Surrey suburb picking up his substantial private sector drug company salary.
How can they have the bare faced cheek to criticize anything that is going on now given the mess that they, the Labour party, left us in?   Pull the other one Owen, it's got bells on.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Independents Day?

I have written on here previously about Independent Councils and questioned whether they work.
Well again today a Council run by an Independent Councillors has hit the headlines.  This time Pembrokeshire Council have been accused of wasting public money - again.
A council already under fire for spending more than £5m on credit cards to buy theatre tickets, wetsuits and football sticker albums, also spent an additional £10m on milk, Welsh translation services and a weather station among other things, we can reveal.
Earlier this year, Pembrokeshire council was slammed as a “shopaholic” authority after being exposed as the second highest credit card spending council in the UK.
Now, following an investigation by Wales on Sunday, we can disclose officers from the free-spending authority also spent £10,168,752 on Welsh Purchasing Cards (WPC) – a type of credit card endorsed by the Welsh Government – during the past three years”

Now the Council argues that this is all perfectly fine and proper, as they would, but this is a lot of money, and one of the issues seems to be that it was not subject to proper scrutiny by Councillors.
Now there is a romantic notion out there amongst some people that any politician who belongs to a political party of any kind is evil whilst Independent Councillors must be whiter than white and have the best interests of residents at heart and never, ever put a foot wrong.
That is of course a load of bovine excrement.

There is currently a ‘residents’ action group’ being set up in RCT to put the voice of the people forward!  There is also an underlying theme which is to put up ‘Independent’ candidates next May (although how Independent any candidate who belongs to a group can be I am not sure). 
Now I have no problem with people expressing views, individually, collectively, any which way they choose, it’s called democracy.  But all too often people who get involved in such groups do so to vent their personal angst and once that is vented they run out of steam.  They have a habit of being opponents of what is being done already without any alternatives.
I wish the group well, but if they (or any other such band of protestors which is what they basically are) are to achieve anything at all then they need to define what they are about, what they intend to offer.   They need to get a bit more politically astute. 
They say they want to change things for the better in RCT.  Yet one of the current drums they have been banging is about the Lords vote on the health service.  That would be the ENGLISH health service, health being of course a devolved issue.  But it is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and they must rage against it before it spreads across the border like some sort of virus!
It is relatively easy to rage against the machine.  I’ve been doing it for long enough!!  What is harder, much harder is to actually work to do something about it.  To stick in there and take the knocks and get back up every time; to put your head above the parapet and become a target for opposition parties and their supporters; to keep on week after week, year after year fighting for what you believe in.  Systematically, not just with a scatter gun approach that picks up every little thing across the UK that you don’t like and brands all politicians as the same.  We’re not. 
Some of us don’t so this just because we are annoyed at a planning decision or the lack of residents parking or some misinformation we have read in the Daily Mail.  We do it because we actually care enough to want to change things.
Now I am off to polish my halo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PC or not PC

I am just about old enough to remember when PC only stood for Police Constable, when Les Dawson was allowed to make mother-in-law jokes, golliwogs appeared on jam jars, and Plaid MPs didn’t exist never mind rant and rave every time someone made a joke about the Welsh.
Now before I say anything else anyone who knows me will also know that I am a firm believer in equality, that as it says in the Liberal Democrat constitution we should “reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.”
I am also fully aware that as a country we are a long, long way from achieving this.  But have we gone a bit too far in certain areas?
Chris Evans on radio 2 this morning asked the question – is it ok to call a Welshman Taff / Taffy?  Now no doubt there are some Plaid extremists who will throw up their hands in disgust and demand he resigns immediately.  But what is wrong with good natured jibes? 
Take this past week.  As you know the English rugby team crashed spectacularly out of the World Cup, and as a result there have been any number of (mostly very bad) jokes going around.  Good natured banter has been rippling around our office for weeks between the ‘warring’ Welsh and English factions.  Is it racism?  Of course not.
As I say, I believe in equality.  One of the reasons I am so against the Royal family is the very idea that anyone one person should be subservient to another, that people should have to bow and curtsy to another person because she holds an inherited title.
I believe in equality – and that to my mind also rules out positive discrimination, although I know there are many who disagree with me.  We need to encourage more women into politics, but I am against all women shortlists, or anything that means a woman does not compete equally on merit with a man for any position.
Perhaps it is because I have been fortunate in that I have never felt discriminated against because of who or what I am.
I am fiercely proud of being Welsh – I am always Welsh first and British a long way second.  But I don’t feel the need to bang the drum incessantly.  And it doesn’t bother me to hear Jeremy Clarkson make jokes about Wales.
Just as long as he doesn’t get too hot under the collar if the jibes go the other way too.
Being a woman has never been a burden either.  I don’t feel I have ever been held back from doing anything because I am female.  That is not to say discrimination does not exist, and it should be stopped, but the whole ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’ bit has never held much attraction for me.
I am comfortable with who and what I am.  Ok, maybe I could do with trimming twenty years off my age, but…....   I am confident in who I am and what I do.  I don’t feel the need to prove myself as a woman – although I do strive to be the best I can be in whatever I do.  I don’t need to feel I am superior to anyone else, because I don’t allow myself to feel inferior.
We are a long, long way from achieving equality across the board - maybe we never wail – but we won’t achieve it by allowing the PC brigade to take the humour out of life.
There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman…………………………

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Tango man is out to get us

Tango man Peter Hain flush from the success of holding on to his Shadow Wales post is urging his party members to set their sights on ridding Wales of those dreadful Liberal Democrat types at next May’s Council elections.
Apparently they are not so bothered about taking Conservative seats – we must really have upset them somewhere along the way, can’t imagine how, I mean we love the Labour party here in RCT.
‘Hain said that for the first time Labour candidates at next May’s council elections would be asked to sign contracts giving undertakings about their future commitment to community engagement: “They will be set targets by local parties based on achieving good levels of doorstep contact with the public.
“It’s very important that we have excellent candidates who will make first class councillors able to gain respect in their communities.
“Many of our current councillors work very hard and are first class, but in the past we have had our fair share of councillors not delivering for local people – and they have lost.” ‘
Even more unfortunately for the residents of many Valleys communities they have their fair share of Councillors who are not delivering who keep on getting elected.

Nice to see the same old, same old from Labour though.  Forget about local politics and what the election is actually about, just have a go at those nasty liberals.

Friday, October 07, 2011

BBC getting their sums wrong on Council payouts?

Puzzling story on the BBC Wales website today  - Welsh councils' £57m redundancy spending in three years.”
It outlines the very substantial amount of money spent by Welsh Councils on making workers redundant in the past three years, yet on my first glance through this morning it didn’t ring true.  It reads:

“Wales' 22 local authorities have spent a total of over £57m on redundancy payments over the last three years.

“The money was spent on redundancy payments to 3,630 people, a Freedom of Information request by BBC Wales has revealed.

“The councils that spent the most on redundancies were Cardiff (£15.1m), Newport (£6.5m) and Swansea (£3.2m).”

My addled brain even at that time of day held a vague recollection of figures from RCT far exceeding £6m.  A quick phone call to colleague Mike Powell confirmed this.  So he did some more digging and contacted the BBC reporter.  Did the BBC have it wrong or were RCT Council not being altogether truthful.  It turns out to be a bit of both.
The reporter had asked every Council in Wales the following:
I would like to know how much the council has spent on redundancy payments - a/voluntary b/compulsory - over the past three years, by providing figures
1. total value of payments
2. number of individuals
3. largest payment to an individual?

More than two months and  two reminders later the reply came
1) 2008/09 - £905,723; 2009/10 - £2,212,599; 2010/11 - £4,631,608
2) 2008/09 - 33; 2009/10 - 114; 2010-11 - 165
3) £110,507
N.B. All Voluntary Redundancy - No Compulsory redundancies.

Now adding up the first three figures you get £7,749,930 - which is greater than the figure quoted for Newport and Swansea.  It seems then the BBC man was in error.  However, this is only part of the story.                      
In November 2010 the BBC itself reported on the over generous redundancy packages being offered by RCT
“The second biggest council in Wales has spent an average of £33,000 on each redundancy package to staff over the past three years, figures show.  Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) council has spent more than £9m on voluntary redundancy packages for 274 people.”

Councillor Mike Powell, then our Pontypridd Assembly candidate, brought into the open figures which showed that on top of the redundancy payments they were entitled to staff were leaving with very generous ‘golden handshakes.’
The figures issued to him then certainly do not gel with those given to the BBC. 
Figures we had then showed that in 2010 alone RCT spent £2,218,594 in early access to pension costs. £1,263,393 in statutory redundancy and £2,936,400 in compensatory payments.  
A total of £6,418.387.  So where do RCT get the figures they gave the BBC? Or did they conveniently forget to add on the extra ‘compensatory payments they shelled out? 
Whichever way you look at it these figures do not add up and yet again the press is feeding the general public inaccurate information.  If I was running Newport or Swansea Councils I’d be a little bit peeved.

Monday, October 03, 2011

English is a curious language

English is a daft language don’t you think?  Just had a very puzzling text conversation with someone which was confused by the word ‘read’
It was meant read as in ‘I have read’ but I thought it was an instruction as in ‘read it.’  Result?  Several unnecessary messages that made what should have been a simple exchange very confusing.
Not for the first time a discussion was had around the office today on whether the past tense of to learn should be learnt or learned.  A Google search only gives contrary answers, but it seems the general opinion is that both are correct.
It stirred me to do a quick online search as to other inconsistencies and I came across this

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
but the plural of ox became oxen not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice;
yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I spoke of my foot and show you my feet,
and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

The bandage was wound around the wound.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

Some examples of strange pronounciations come into the picture with:
if you have a rough cough, climbing can be tough when going through the bough on a tree!