Saturday, August 09, 2014

Does Ponty AM's sloppiness extend to other areas of his work?

We all make the odd typo, or slight cut and paste error, but you would think that the AM for Pontypridd and his staff would take a little more care when proof reading literature.  The July edition of his newsletter is available to download on his website and with only a brief glance through it I spotted the following:

1. PCSOs are a highly visible, engaging with people, providing reassurance and tackle anti-social behaviour.  (tackling surely)
2. Rhdyfelin & Beddau libraries  (missing y)

I welcome the decision by the Andrew Morgan, new leader of RCT to keep the Rhydyfelin library open and to engage in discussions with the local community over its future.

3. We cannot of course underestimate the impact of the Coalition cuts and the implications these have for local services which local councillors have to implement to set a legal budget.
4. I’m also delighted that the Beddau land Tynant Library Community Support Group’s (pictured) business plan to take community ownership of Beddau library has been backed by RCT.

 5. A few week earlier, Owen Smith MP and I presented our formal submissions to the Chief Fire Officer.  (weeks)

It really is just sloppy and presents an unprofessional image from what should be a professional set up. 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Disgruntled of RCT

I have let this blog go a bit lately – far too much going on and too little time to have a good rant about everything. That is of course the reason I set this up in the first place – to give me an outlet for my more opinionated outbursts, reflecting my opinions and mine alone. 

So, what has been irking me recently – where to start.

It goes without saying that at the centre of it is usually RCT Council or the Labour party in some form.  Recently even some of their own members are getting a little sick of their antics, although not it appears sick enough to leave the party.

There was a proposal to increase the salaries of three Officers which was somehow leaked to the press.  Well when I say somehow, I leaked it, based on information from an extremely disgruntled Labour Councillor who has had a few run ins with his Cabinet colleagues.  Two of the three proposals were for increased responsibilities as a result of not replacing another Director, and so were fair enough.  It was the third that caused outrage.

The third Officer was our old mate Christian Hanagan – yes you know the story by now, former Labour candidate, probably still a Labour member, son of a Cabinet Member. Given a job originally as the then Council leader’s PA and then moved up the ranks to a completely new job as Head of PR and Strategy.  This job did not exist previously and was given to him without it being advertised or open to any other applicant.

He now sits at the top table for Council meetings and at the right hand of the Leader for Cabinet meetings.  A Chief Executive in waiting it seems.

It appears that our disgruntled Labour Cllr wasn’t the only one to see that giving him a pay rise of 15% right now was a bad idea, and the proposal was turned down by the group. Well, for now anyway, although it would not surprise me if they found another way of doing it.

I was also made aware of a secret Cabinet meeting which took place two weeks before the public meeting with exactly the same agenda.  Now we have suspected that these take place all along but this was the first time someone had handed us proof.  It certainly explains why there is so little discussion at the “open” meetings. 

The real question though is if these Labour members are so unhappy with what is going on then why don’t they speak up themselves?  Why stay with the party?  Not that I am complaining at anyone feeding me information of course.  I am more than willing to spread it to a wider audience, but I cannot understand the attitude. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

RCT Cabinet broadcast shows their flaws

The second ‘live’ RCT Council Cabinet broadcast took place today, although if you don’t follow @rctcouncil on Twitter you may have missed the fact altogether as it is not exactly prominent on the Council website. 

It took the esteemed Labour Members 20 minutes to authorise significant changes to special education provision, pass the new policy regarding charging parents who allow their children to truant and welcome a 22 page report on integrated health and social services.

The entire scene was scripted, and with the exception of Cllr Forey, who actually appeared to ad lib for a few seconds, the script was carefully followed.

I would have been thoroughly ashamed to allow this to be seen in public.  Cabinet Members are paid £31,900 a year, plus expenses.  The Deputy Leader, in the Chair yet again today as the Leader continues to battle with ill health, picks up £37,100.  They are paid it, but evidence suggests they certainly do not earn it.

People elect their councillors to represent them, but also to run the Council, to deliver what they said in their manifesto – also known around here as the Labour joke book.  These Cabinet Members are paid full time salaries to do just that.

These broadcasts show what we have been saying for some time is true – the Labour lot are nothing but a bunch of sheep, they collect their pay checks but are led completely by Officers.  There is absolutely no independent thought.  It is presumably one of the main reasons why they are afraid to meet with the public.

They are not even clever enough to try and pretend they are in charge and actually making decisions.  In fact could all do with some lessons in public speaking and presentation – and definitely need to practice reading their scripts. As long as that is done at Labour party expense and not the taxpayers.

Of course, having said that, they were, as they never tire of saying, elected in large numbers by the good people of RCT.  So it is for them to judge their performance.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Have Labour members got nothing better to do?

With everything that is going on in RCT – rising council tax; education cuts; library; day centre; swimming pool and theatre closures; controversial changes to school catchment areas, etc ., you would think that Labour members, elected or otherwise would have better things to do than waste their time trying to wind us up.

Yet that is what apparently some of them like to spend their time doing.

Two of them were removed from the RCT Welsh Lib Dem facbook site yesterday – David Morris and Jeremy Williams.  Now we have no problem with open debate, or with people disagreeing with our views, but personal attacks are certainly not going to go on unchecked.

We are without doubt the most open and accessible party in RCT.  Cllr Mike Powell and myself in particular, but other members too, engage widely with members of the public in a variety of arenas. Facebook, Twitter, our website, this blog, not to mention public meetings and events.  Unlike the Labour party we don’t hide away in case people say something ‘nasty’ about us.  However, neither will we allow Labourites to spam our own sites with personal abuse.

There must surely be something more useful they can be doing within their communities rather than indulging in such childish practises.  They could even try entering into some decent debate with reasoned arguments – except it is not, it seems, the Labour party way.

In a comment on the post he left (pictured above) David Morris stated that “Myself and Jeremy Williams have been un-democratically banned by Karen Roberts the Lib Dem Councillor from RCT who runs their facebook Page.” 

Now this is factually inaccurate to begin with – I am not a Councillor, I am the Chair and Campaign manager of RCT Welsh Lib Dems which gives me the authority to speak on their behalf.  As for being “un-democratically banned”  maybe Mr Morris could ask the parents who oppose the nursery cuts, or those against Y Pant catchment changes, or the residents furious at the closure of Rhydyfelin library what they think of a Labour party member talking about something being undemocratic.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Labour Council lost the plot over childcare

Whilst the Labour party at UK and Wales level are desperately trying to convince people that they understand the problems associated with childcare and want to do something positive about it then RCT Labour seem to have lost the plot.

Miliband is banging on about introducing free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, over and above what the coalition has actually made available which is 15 hrs a week free.

We can, allegedly, trust them to understand the problems and the benefits that good quality childcare bring to the economy as well as to individuals. 

In Wales childcare costs are rocketing and the Welsh Labour Government are as usual insisting they are on the case.  Their Flying Start programme which gives 12.5 hrs a week free childcare to 2 to 3 year olds in the most deprived areas is proof that they care and are committed to better provision they say. The fact that this provision is in no way dependent upon whether the parents of the children are working or in training and so no really providing a solution for working parents seems to have passed them by.

Here in RCT of course the Council have their own solution, no doubt designed to help them meet their manifesto commitments to ensure “the demand for improved services is balanced with affordable Council Tax levels,” “ensure fairness, equality in the delivery of services, promoting progress towards greater social justice and the need for sustainable communities” and of course “focus on delivering better outcomes for local communities and continue to ensure a cost effective operation and delivery of Council functions and services.”

They are suggesting that childcare costs in RCT run nurseries increase by 7.3% to more than £44 a day. Now isn’t that helpful? This at a time when there will potentially be greater demand because of their decision regarding the cutting of nursery education. (A decision that is of course currently on hold pending a possible judicial review.)

It doesn’t stop there, however.  RCT Officers are busy converting some of their day Nurseries into pure Flying Start centres which will not offer general childcare to anyone not part of that programme.  They have even been actively encouraging private Day Nurseries to go down the same route.

It is yet more evidence of the complete lack of joined up thinking in RCT at both Member and Officer level.  There is no innovation and absolutely no idea of what they need to do in order to make any economic progress and move certain areas up through the deprivation ranks.

There is no political drive or control even.  Labour Members are content to simply pick up their salaries and accept the recommendations of Officers. This was clearly seen during the budget setting process when the information they were making decisions on was woefully inadequate.  It is even more clearly exhibited by checking their manifesto against their delivery. 

What hope is there for the future of RCT when there is so little in the way of leadership?

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Councillors, Common Sense and Miscommunication

Every now and again someone will randomly come up with the idea that there should be a minimum qualification level for Councillors.  Now I am not a supporter of that idea at all, it is undemocratic and illiberal, and besides having a piece of paper which says you have x number of qualifications is not by any means a guarantee that you would be any good at the job.

However, the public surely have a right to expect a certain element of common sense, willingness to learn and an ability to grasp some of the complexities involved in running an organisation of the size and diversity of a County Council.

They certainly have a right to expect that information coming from them will be correct.  There is nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know the answer to a particular question or that you need to find out, but actually misleading the public by putting incorrect facts in the public domain helps nobody.

Take for instance a piece that appeared in the February issue of the District Diary, a free magazine that is delivered in the Talbot Green / Pontyclun and surrounding areas.  It is from the two Labour Councillors for the Pontyclun ward.  It talks of the cuts the Council are imposing and states:

“If RCT Council is to protect expenditure on 5-16 schooling and social care for the most vulnerable children and adults then the UK Government’s funding cuts mean that 50% of every other service must be cut.”

Where on earth has this come from?  It is absolute nonsense.  Yes savings have to be made and the budget has been cut, but half of everything except schools and social care?  Such misinformation is hardly helpful and it is worrying that decisions are being made when members of the ruling group obviously do not understand what they are dealing with.

Still, in a situation where backbench Labour members hardly ever speak in the Chamber and Cabinet Members have their scripts carefully written for them by Officers then the opportunities for learning are few and far between.

When they do speak they often get their facts a little muddled.  As did the Hawthorn Councillor who last week claimed that the cut backs were the fault of the Westminster Government because they had sold the Pops Offices at a loss!  The fact that nobody has sold the Post Offices seems to have escaped her.  She has probably forgotten the closures of these establishments under Labour too.

 It is not the exclusive domain of Labour Councillors to spread inaccurate information because of a lack of understanding of the facts.  The Independent Councillor for Talbot Green seems to make it up as he goes along.

In the March edition of the District Diary it is his turn to address the public.  His arrogance shines through, as unfortunately does his ignorance.

He starts with reference to a letter he has written to the ‘new Chief Executive’ – someone should have told him that he hasn’t taken over the post yet. If he attended a Council meeting more than once every six months he may know.

He goes on to say:

“RCT Cabinet have revised the catchment area for Y Pant School. Under new legislation, which has been passed by the cabinet, pupils of Llantrisant Primary and Penygawsi Primary will now no longer be guaranteed a place at Y Pant School.”

Now this is completely incorrect.  Yes there is an on-going consultation regarding the changing of catchment areas for these two schools, but the Cabinet have not yet decided.  Even if they do go ahead with the proposals they will not be making “new legislation” simply altering school admission arrangements. It is upsetting for those parents fighting the changes to be told that they are a done deal.

Having said that of course every one of the 75 Councillors in RCT were put there by the people via a democratic process. Maybe those voters should be a little more discerning in who they elect, not be blinded by a red rosette or a familiar name, or indeed into thinking that Independents are more able to represent them because there are no party ties. Councillors are people too, even those operating under party banners, and no they are not all the same.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Labour and the thorny issue of communication

What is it with the Labour party and its elected members in this area that they seem so reluctant to engage with the public or even to pass on their views – unless through the pages of the taxpayer funded council website or newspaper?

It has never been easier to communicate with people than it is now.  Social media makes it instant –you can express opinions and ask questions via websites, twitter, Facebook.   So why don’t they?

Maybe they have no valid opinions to express, or they think their opinions will be too unpopular. Perhaps they are afraid to engage because they do not like taking the flak for any decisions?  After all a number of Cabinet members flatly refused to attend public meetings to discuss the nursery education and other cuts.

RCT Labour took down their website some months ago – the one with all the Council manifesto promises they have since broken.  Their new one has been under construction for months.

Twitter seems to be an unknown phenomenon as far as the vast majority of Labour councillors are concerned, and none appear to run open Facebook pages.
The MPs and AMs websites are lacking in any useful information, and certainly any opinion on local matters.  Leighton Andrews tweets more about Cardiff City and football than he does about the Rhondda, whilst Mike Antoniw’s is distinctly lacking in any news of the Pontypridd constituency he purports to represent.  Chris Chapman doesn’t even appear to have one.

Maybe in their arrogance they don’t think they need to communicate too much with their public – after all they will surely continue to blindly vote Labour.  The Councillors can rely on the ‘Outlook’ magazine to force their propaganda down people’s throats.  They don’t actually want to go telling people what they really think now do they?  If that is they really are capable of any independent thought.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Apologise to the miners? Labour should be first in line

It is 30 years since the miners’ strike and certain Labour party members are dancing up and down  - I can only assume in an effort to gain some brownie points in their communities – demanding an apology from the Conservatives.

Cynon Valley AM Chris Chapman has joined in, tabling a statement of opinion at the Assembly which

“Acknowledges that many families and Welsh coalfield communities still remain deeply affected by the scars of the dispute; closure of mines; and job and industry losses” and

“Calls on the Conservative Party to issue an apology for the actions of the Thatcher Government during the strike.”

Now last I heard Mrs Thatcher was dead, why on earth should anyone apologise on her behalf thirty years after the event?  If the Labour party are looking for apologies then maybe they could look a little closer to home.

How about an apology from former Pontypridd MP Kim Howells?  At the time of the strike he was a miner’s rep.  When two striking miners killed a taxi driver by dropping a concrete block off a bridge over the A470 Mr Howells first thought was to run back to the office to destroy documents that may incriminate the union.

In his own words, as reported by The Guardian in 2004

 “I thought, hang on, we've got all these records we've kept at the NUM' offices, there is all those maps on the wall. We are going to get implicated in this. I remember thinking I've got to get to that office, I've got to destroy everything - and I did.”

David Wilkie, a father of four was killed and his reaction was to protect the union!

Then of course there is the current AM for Pontypridd Mick Antoniw. He was a partner in a firm of solicitors who were "severely reprimanded" and fined costs amounting to £88,000 by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority for irregularities involving miners' compensation claims.

Miner’s compensation cases were referred to his law firm Thompsons by the Unions. Thompsons failed to inform the miners that they did not have to use their services if they did not wish to. They then proceeded to skim off £10.9m from the settlements it secured for clients and paid it to the unions in the guise of 'administrative charges'

Maybe Mr Antoniw would like to make a public apology for that?

I am not condoning Tory policies or actions, but the Labour party have done nothing for this country and nothing to replace the jobs that were lost when the mines closed. The hypocrisy coming from some of them stinks.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Is Pontypridd MP in the know or out of the loop

The Pontypridd Observer today carried a front page article on the proposed changes to the school catchment areas for Y Pant and Bryncelynnog schools, and the campaign to stop them going ahead.

The piece continued on the inside and included comments from Pontypridd MP Owen Smith which were rather puzzling. He started off by saying that he was “disappointed to have learned about the decision through the media as I believe we should be consulting far more widely and openly amongst parents, schools, local communities and representatives before such important decisions are agreed.”

Now this is odd as the Cabinet last week decided that the proposals should go out to consultation not that they should take place.  There will be consultation with those Mr Smith mentions – although given other recent consultations people may be forgiven for wondering if there is any point.

This would suggest that either Mr Smith has little faith in the consultation process and that he assumes the decision is as good as taken, or that he has some insider knowledge that says it to all intents and purposes has been.

 His next paragraph adds to the confusion. 

“I have now asked the council to brief me about their decision and I will also seek to meet with parents and local schools to discuss matters before I submit my own views to the consultation.”

Now which is it – have they decided or are they consulting?

The whole article suggests that the relationship between Mr Smith and his Labour Council colleagues is somewhat strained. It also suggests that maybe he needs to make sure that his press officer is fully briefed and at least aims for a degree of consistency within an article. Perhaps he could take advice off the RCT Council PR department – it’s certainly big enough,

Friday, January 24, 2014

Your constituency should come first Mick

The twitter feed of the Pontypridd Labour AM Mick Antoniw has gone into overtime in recent days as the Newport living AM shows his eagerness to let the people he represents know what he is doing for them.

So what has caused this flurry of activity? The announcement that his Labour colleagues at RCT Council are going to increase Council Tax by a scandalous 4.5%, or that this will be topped up by a 5% Police precept increase from his Labour mate the Police Commissioner?

Maybe it is the planned closure of the Muni – after all he has been very supportive of the new theatre in Tonyrefail, and is a great fan of the Cory Band (even though they are Rhondda based.).  He won’t want to see the Muni go.

Perhaps the way in which Rhydyfelin and Hawthorn residents have been let down with the sudden u-turn by Labour on the library – initially to stay open the Cabinet (including the Councillor for Rhydyfelin) suddenly changed their minds.

Nursery education cuts have been causing great upset across his constituency, he has seen the problems this is going to cause and the affect it will have on children in RCT and is leading the fight back?

No, none of the above.  Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw, who doesn’t spend a great deal of time in his constituency anyway between his work at the Assembly and his home in Newport, has been tweeting constantly about his visit this week to Kiev and the civil unrest taking place there.

Now whilst there is nothing wrong with AMs taking an interest in foreign affairs,  it would be nice if now and again he took a little more interest in what goes on in the constituency he represents. Nobody is saying he shouldn't be able to do things elsewhere, but it appears that his constituency always comes in second place to whatever campaign he is involved in at any time.

Looking at his twitter and Facebook accounts it appears the only things he does within his constituency is tag along with the MP on the odd visit and spend his time in local chip shops.  Of course we have some very fine chip shops, but do they need quite so many visits from their Assembly Member?  Publicly advertised ones anyway.

A look at Mr Antoniw’s website would seem to indicate a similar imbalance between his general interests and those of the residents he is supposedly elected to serve. With everything that is going on locally surely residents could expect some sort of comment?   


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

You will do what we say - Labour way or the highway in RCT

Well the Labour lot on RCT Council surpassed themselves again today.  Two Cabinet meetings were held, the first to announce a consultation on phase 2 cuts and the second to receive feedback and make decisions of the phase 1 proposals.

The PR department and the Council’s resident tweeter fell silent, not a word came across the ether about these two important meetings.  Maybe they were too tired out form all the Nos Galon tweeting they did, poor things.

Still, they obviously expected crowds to descend on Council HQ.  Hence the presence of three civil enforcement officers to ensure that people did not park on the yellow lines on the road leading up to the offices – the same yellow lines people (councillors included) regularly park on for every council meeting.  It was obviously a free for all in other areas of the Rhondda today.

Both meetings began with the same warning – that the public were welcome but no shouting for the gallery, and no photos.  The second meeting had an extra warning from the legal officer – no using social media to report the meeting from the Chamber. They wouldn’t want the public getting wind of what is going on there would they?

 I waited eagerly to see which members of the public would be allowed to speak – after all when he turned down my request to speak at the meeting Cllr Cannon said he had received many requests to speak and mine was being refused because I didn’t have a relevant interest. You can imagine my surprise then when not a single member of the public spoke at either meeting.  Had the all been turned down and if so why?

Cllr Cannon in the Chair laid down the rules, he was in charge and he would decide who could speak and for how long. When Plaid’s Cllr Jarman complained about a procedural matter he retorted sternly that “This is a Cabinet meeting, it is OUR meeting not yours.”

I suppose the next step will be to enlarge all the doors at Council HQ for the inflated heads of the Labour Cabinet to fit through.






Friday, January 03, 2014

Cllr Cannon and the Labour lot – scared, stupid or simply stubborn?

Next Wednesday the Labour Cabinet in RCT meet to launch the so called consultation on the second round of the savage Labour cuts and to consider the feedback from the public on the first round.

The first round included cutbacks in nursery education, youth provision, meals on wheels, libraries and day centres.

Cabinet meetings are of course open to the public, and members of the public are invited to submit requests to speak if they have a relevant interest.  So as someone with a relevant interest I did just that.  

I am Chair of the Cwmclydach Development Trust which runs a Day Nursery – our business could be directly affected by the decision made.  I am Vice Chair of Governors at a secondary school – our E3 provision will be affected by the withdrawal of transport, and we anticipate that our homework clubs will suffer as a result.

I have an interest, albeit less directly, in Clydach Vale Boys and Girls Club where the youth club is currently based – plans to remove funding for it will certainly have an effect on provision there. The building may become unsustainable and as it currently houses our holiday play schemes then it will affect our Trust.

Yet, surprise, surprise, today I received an email which states:

Dear Ms.Roberts,
The Cabinet Office has already received a number of requests to contribute to the meeting.
Your request has been considered by the Chair and it is felt that you do not have a relevant interest in the matters being discussed.

So Deputy Leader Paul Cannon, whom I presume is still in the driving seat owing to the Leader’s illness, has decided that I do not have a relevant interest.  Really?  How much more relevant could it get then?

Maybe they are scared that myself and others actually know more than they do about some of the subjects under discussion.  If the public report is anything to go by then that wouldn’t be difficult.

A cynic may well think that Cllr Cannon is simply playing political games, which given the seriousness of the proposals is indeed sad.  From a political viewpoint it is also quite stupid.

You see, whatever I was going to say regarding childcare provision and youth provision I can say to a much wider audience anyway via social media. So should I be looking to score political points from that then I can do so fairly easily.  What this frankly daft decision does is now give the opportunity to point out to everyone exactly how undemocratic the Labour Cabinet are.

Politically it shows a marked naivety.  Maybe they should be looking for some better strategic advice on the subject.  Scared, stupid or simply stubborn – probably all three.