Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pantomime time at RCT Council – oh yes it is

It is little wonder that the Labour party have had second thoughts about broadcasting Council meetings live on the web as they promised in their manifesto. Far too many people would then potentially be able to see the frankly laughable incompetence not to mention arrogance of their members in the Chamber.

Take last night’s meeting, a classic example, this time the performance being given in front of around 50 members of the public – at least the main bulk of it. Not all of them could stomach the nonsense that went on for over three hours.

It began with questions from the public – six in all, the bulk of them to the Cabinet Member for Education who was clearly rattled at being the focus of so much attention. Her voice quavered - whether with nerves or anger it was difficult to tell – as she repeated the same weary lines, that the Council are doing all they can, it is all the fault of the dreadfully wicked people at Westminster etc., etc. If only there was a fairy godmother to hand. Instead there was only Baron Hardup in the form of Deputy Leader Paul Cannon to back her up.

The quaver became more audible as well thought out supplementary questions were put – these of course she had no advance warning of and so hadn’t been able to get an officer to write a response to. Angry parents demanding answers on proposed nursery education cuts were left furious at the constant response that "I’ll reply more fully in writing."

Cabinet Members get paid handsomely for their roles, surely the public have a right to be able to expect a fair degree of knowledge and direct political answers from their elected representatives? The public left thinking of Cllr Hanagan more as the wicked witch than the good fairy.

Moving on we came to a debate on saving money by reducing workers hours and encouraging voluntary early redundancy amongst other things.

Following a Plaid amendment being put Cllr Mike Powell asked to speak, and asked the Mayor, who was chairing the meeting, whether she wanted him at that point to just speak to the amendment or to the motion as a whole. He made it clear he wanted to c0mment on the whole motion. She told him to speak just to the amendment, which was voted down.

She then moved swiftly on to a vote on the motion, denying Cllr Powell the opportunity to speak to it, despite his protestations.

The Chamber reached almost traditional pantomime proportions as the public gallery and opposition benches erupted with calls for him to be allowed to speak. The Mayor, obviously as flustered as her Education colleague, muttered an apology. Maybe some training is called for.

My favourite bit, though, came after a vote on the Treasury Management Strategy. Cabinet Member Maureen Webber attracted the Mayor’s attention and stated that she had left the Chamber during the debate and so under the rules should not have voted. She put her hand in the air to vote ‘by mistake.’

This just about sums up the way in which the Labour party sheep behave. Half the time they are not even aware of what they are voting on, they just put their hands in the air when the leader does. It is a reflex action and shows a frightening lack of thought – oh yes it does…..

Saturday, November 09, 2013

My submission to RCT Council regarding proposed cuts

This is a copy of my online submission to RCT Council regarding the phase 1 proposed cuts.  Views can be submitteed by following this link.

Comments Pages 1 & 2 General & Nursery Education

Whether I have a child in nursery education or not is immaterial, we are talking about the provision of services across RCT and whether they are fair and equitable.  That opinion can be formed whether or not there is a personal interest involved.

To add to my responses to the multiple choice questions:

Q1. There should be no presumption that the Council needs to reduce services, instead it should first look at alternative means of providing those services and making savings not cutting services. This is a leading question.

Q3. The proposals will not in my opinion result in a reasonable level of service in all instances. I think part time nursery education is far from reasonable given the long history we have in RCT of full time provision.

I am not convinced they will be sustainable over the medium term, there has been no real evidence produced of that.  As has been said by the First Minister and The Local Government Minister RCT has failed to take adequate note of the warnings they have had about financial cutbacks over the past three years, there is no evidence lessons have been learned.

The question of whether the services will be as good or better than elsewhere is impossible to judge and is, like many of the questions, a misleading question.  You could ask whether the level of provision will be the same but not if it will be as good.

Q7. Just because RCT will provide the same level of service as other Councils does not make it fair.

Comments Page 3 Meals on Wheels.
Again whether I am a user of this particular service or not is immaterial, we are talking about the provision of services across RCT and whether they are fair and equitable.  That opinion can be formed and is valid whether or not there is a personal interest involved.

My concern here is that there are a small number of vulnerable people who may not be capable of heating a meal themselves, and I would want to be assured that there will be adequate provision made for these.

Comments Page 4 Libraries

I would agree that it is not financially viable to keep open libraries that are not being used sufficiently.  I would hope that alternative provision would be looked at i.e. more widespread mobile provision and the possibility of locating smaller units in other buildings.

Comments Page 5 Youth provision

I am not a user of these services, however I am a Secondary School Governor and have seen how valued the E3 provision is.  I am very concerned by the removal of transport associated with E3 as this will make it impossible for many to attend as they will not be able to get home afterwards.

The Estyn survey last year identified that there were issues around youth provision and it was not always reaching the right people.  There is no evidence in the report to Cabinet that this has been addressed with the proposed changes instead they appear to be purely financially based.

 Comments Page 6 Day Centres

I would agree that it is not financially viable to keep open centres that are not being used at the substantial cost they incur. I also think that the provision is unnecessary for all over 50.

Additional Comments about other services.

There should be a substantial cutback in the PR department which is a luxury this Council cannot afford.

The use of consultants must be cut out, why pay specialist Officers if they cannot provide the advice the Council needs on such issues as HR and legal matters.

Look at cutting a tier of management, front line staff are more vital to the provision of equitable and adequate services.

Look at ways of using the third sector, community businesses and private companies more for delivery of certain services if they will deliver the same or a better standard of service at a lower cost eg leisure services, catering across the board, child care (there should be no need for Council run child care services and the back-up teams involved in running them.  CSSIW regulate the provision, there is no need for RCT back up.

Without knowing what is planned for future phases it is very difficult to comment fully.  It would have been much easier ha this Council followed the same route as others and laid out all its proposals in one go.

Q35 – equality

Whilst these proposals will not affect me personally because of any of these reasons they will affect others unfairly.

Pupils at Welsh Medium and Faith schools will be disproportionately hit by the removal of transport to schools and the cut to part time education. 

Women will be unfairly hit, as they are the ones statistically more likely to be in lower paid or part time jobs which they will have to give up if they cannot find or afford childcare.  Also the large proportion of Nursery school teachers and teaching assistants who stand to lose their jobs are female.

Children in poverty will be hardest hit as they will lose out on essential education and the social benefits that being in school full time and having a hot meal at lunchtime brings.

Don’t be shy Cllr, say what you mean

I have just come across this remarkable piece of fiction from RCT Labour CouncillorChris Williams on the subject of the proposed cuts from RCT Council which have caused so much concern. 

Cllr Williams found a little local fame recently when it was reported that he had parted company with his former employer, Labour AM for Pontypridd Mick Antoniw following disagreement over time off for Council meetings.  To be fair to him he is one of the very, very few Labour Councillors in RCT who have an online presence to let his electorate know what he is up to, although his last blog post was in July, and his last newsletter on there from April, so he obviously does not have a great deal to say to them.

His blog piece sticks firmly to the accepted Labour party line followed by all the Labour sheep, er sorry, Councillors. In fact he states “However, the Cabinet and other Labour councillors are essentially being forced into doing so by a lack of finance, traceable back to the UK Tory and Lib Dem government. RCT’s Labour councillors are adamant on this point.”

Well they can be as adamant as they like but that doesn’t make it fact – people were once adamant that the world was flat.  Yes it is true that the block grant from Westminster to the Welsh Government has been trimmed back.  After 13 years of Labour Government the note from Liam Byrne said it all – there was no money left.  This country cannot spend what it hasn’t got.

However, it is then up to the Welsh LABOUR Government to decide how to distribute that money.  Councillor Williams bemoans the ‘fact’ that “the Welsh Government has been forced into reducing the finance it can give to Wales' 22 local authorities.”

Now that may be true to some extent, they may have had to reduce spending, but then just like RCT Council some of their spending is frivolous and in my opinion a total waste of public money that could be better spent.

Take for instance their purchase of Cardiff airport.  A snip at £52million, but it was bought with no business plan in place and with no idea what they were going to do with it.  They have ludicrously expensive foreign offices that fail to bring in expected benefits, and civil servants were revealed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats to be sending thousands on first class travel.  

They handed out money to pay for the Porth relief road a road which has done nothing at all to bribing investment into the Valleys.  The estimated cost was £37 million, it ended up at £98 million.  They then allowed RCT Council to appoint the same contractors to build the Church Village by pass which saw a similar trebling in costs.

So Cllr Williams don’t bring the hard done by stories here they don’t wash.

He of course has a few little digs along the way, but can’t quite bring himself to say outright just what he means.  Must be a Labour trait.
He claims “there is a great deal of misinformation being put about on those websites, and it is clear that certain individuals with particular political agendas have been using these well-meaning online groups as a means to peddle their lies, and cloud over the truth of the situation.”

Now just who is he referring to I wonder?  And what ‘misinformation’ and ‘lies’ have been put out there?  In fact if he is so concerned then why doesn’t he join in the debate and give the public the benefit of his wisdom?  I am sure the thousands of people on the ‘parents against the cuts to education in rct’ site would love to have him on board.  Or has the group whip forbidden it?

The uncertainty amongst the Labour camp obviously continues as he states “Rhondda Cynon Taff will lose out substantially. Figures of £56million to £70million over 4 years have been mentioned: it is likely the actual figure will be to the higher end of this scale.”   This does not engender confidence amongst the general public.  Surely they have a better idea of how much they need to save?  How can they balance the books if they don’t know how much is needed to be trimmed?

He has another little dig at un-named individuals “I believe it is fair to say that none of RCT’s councillors (perhaps with the exception of one or two unfortunate individuals) want to make any cuts to any front line services. However, the Cabinet and other Labour councillors are essentially being forced into doing so by a lack of finance.”  Just who are these unfortunate individuals in the Labour camp who want to do this, because certainly nobody on the opposition benches seems to? 

They are not being forced into anything they are simply being lazy and accepting the officer’s recommendation of easy targets.  That is not what they are elected for.

The public are waking up Chris to you and your cronies and the attitude of disdain you exhibit towards the electorate.  At least be man enough to have debate in public and name names if you are determined to have a pop.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Knowledge is power - power to the people.

The recent announcement by RCT Council that they are considering cutting a number of front line services including libraries, day centres, meals on wheels, youth provision and full time nursery education has, it is fair to say, caused a bit of a stir.

On the plus side it has acted as a wake up call for many who for the first time are taking some sort of interest in what is it that their local Council actually does.  What this in turn has done is show up the shocking lack of knowledge the majority of people have about the system of government in this country and just who is responsible for what.  It is not their fault, after all politics is a bit of a turn off for many, and the institution doesn’t make it very easy for the average person in the street to get to grips with it.  In Wales devolution muddies the waters even more.

I have said for some time that politics should be taught in schools.  Not party politics of course but the way it all operates. Who runs our schools, who is responsible for the health service, who pays out benefits, how does it all knit together?

People cannot hope to get fully involved and make real change unless they understand where changes need to be made.  There is a very well meaning debate going on via a Facebook group about what alternatives can be put forward to the cuts being proposed by the Labour administration, and there are some very good thoughts there.  However, it is also being taken off track in a number of instances by people talking about merging wards and cutting the number of Councillors, cutting MPS allowances, not sending money abroad, stopping free bus passes and free prescriptions for all.  All worthy debates to be had but nothing that is within the control of the Council and nothing that can help them make the savings they need to.

Knowledge is power so they say, and we should be providing the knowledge so that everyone can have an informed input into who holds the reins of power.