Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Difference between Officers and Members.

Joined Welshpool Town Council tonight for a discussion about issues that matter to Welshpool. I'm really lucky that local Councils are willing to discuss their concerns with me. Big help in my efforts to develop a 'personal' aspect to my election manifesto. 17 of Montgomeryshire's Town and Community Councils have agreed to similar meetings. I was deeply impressed by the scale of activity and ambition of this Council. Welshpool is Montgomeryshire's second biggest town, and its local government is in very good hands.

One important issue raised was Powys County Council's plan to undermine local democracy by abolishing the 'Montgomeryshire' Planning Committee. Bit of history here. Powys Council became the 'unitary' local authority in 1994. A most dreadful mistake. Destroyed local democracy in Mid Wales. In an effort to limit the damage to democracy and in recognition of the huge size of Powys, and the fact that there is a range of mountains that separates the Northern half of this 'artificial' county from its Southern half, the establishing Act allowed for a 'shire' Committee to cover Montgomeryshire (with separate arrangements for Ranorshire and Breconshire). But the great centralist's at County Hall have always hated this arrangement. And they are trying yet again to do something about it - by trying to castrate the 'shires' through abolishing their 'planning' function. Totally disgraceful. Instead of Montgomeryshire Councillors deciding on Montgomeryshire planning applications as has existed for always, there will now be 15 Councillors drawn from across this huge county and 'trained' up to form an itinerant committee. The great god being quoted is 'consistency'.

This issue was raised by the redoubtable Cllr. Annie Holloway tonight. Well done. Cllr. David Senior said that this was an attempt to transform councillors into officers. Well said. And then Cllr. Dennis Thompson said "Officers are there to provide the expertise, while Councillors are there to provide the common sense". Well said again. I do so hope that Councillors stand up and tell their officers to get stuffed on this one.


Anonymous said...

Of course they want to meet you. They all know that you will be the next MP. And joy of joys, Grope-it is set to appear on Mr & Mrs ! He really is your biggest asset Glyn......

Anonymous said...

Glyn, this is from hazy memory and the situation may have changed. David Hunt included the shire option because of the "Powys problem". There was even a weird suggestion that Powys Council should adopt the title "Kingdom of Powys" with three subsiduary "counties". Strangely when the reforms went through Powys didn't excercise the full option but a sort of semi unofficial half-way house. The only council that did adopt the legalized shire-comittee system was Gwynedd.
The problem with the system was that it was the full council that decided whether to opt for the system. There was no mechanism for the smaller units to demand it. In restrospect it is very strange that the Welsh Office insiisted on a unitary Powys while rolling over to Ted Rowlands campaign for an "independent" Merthyr. I mean at least Montgomeryshire is large eneough to contain an entire parliamentary constituency!
Having said that the track record of the very small unitary authorities is not good. Ynys Mon got rapped today. Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr and Torfaen speak for themselves. Maybe Montgomery was spared!

Jeff Jones said...

Powys became a unitary authority in 1996 Glyn.It is nice to see that once again you have the courage to criticise a policy decision of your own party.Local government reform in the 1990s produced a system which is not fit for purpose and in many cases is still remote from the ordinary voter. Some of us who were there still remember the manner in which MPs of all parties failed to scrutinise the proposed legislation. Improved local services sadly was the last thing on their mind. What perhaps sums it all up was the casual way David Hunt told Ron Davies that he could have another Labour authority during the committee stage of the bill. The result was the proposed Heads of the Valley authority was split into Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent with no thought for either service provision or possible council tax levels.Both authorities have strugggled since 1996.The situation also wasn't helped by the way in which the Labour controlled district and county authorities could not agree a compromise. Hunt basically wanted to destroy the Labour conntrolled counties and create 4 city authorities but he was prepared to be pretty flexible with the rest of Wales. The transcripts of the E.coli Inquiry sadly are a classic example of what went wrong with local services after reorganisation. I am a big supporter of the ideas of Simon Jenkins when it comes to local democracy. I led Bridgend CBC for 9 years and the authority in my opnion will never work. The Beecham Report fudged the issue and the so called cooperation agenda will not in the long run deliver the necessary improvement. My own preferred preference is for the Assembly to look at local government again with the emphasis on service delivery and real local democracy and accountability. I would have a small number of strategic auhtorities under the assembly. In my own area the new Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust which covers the area from Swansea to Bridgend points the way to a possible startegy area. This would allow health to be democratically controlled. For good measure as an ex Police Authority member I also believe that the police should be directly controlled by local government. Ironically the Bro Morgannwg solution copies the proposed East/West Glamorgan solution which the Labour party argued for in the 1970s. Under these strategic authorites would be smaller councils. My own home town of Maesteg which has a population of 21000 would be one of them . As in France and the USA these authorities would be run by elected Mayors held to account by the scrutiny of other concillors. Local government in Wales is in crisis with every party finding it difficult to persuade individuals to stand for election in May. Reform of local government could go some way to restoring ordinary voters faith in politics and politicians.

Prasit said...

What were you doing there?
You are at the moment non elected to any council.
The councillors should really tell you to butt out.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - My memory is hazy as well, but our recollections are similar. I remember being quite shocked when the decision on Merthyr was reversed, especially since the population projections for Montgomeryshire were much stronger. I have only a strong view about Montgomeryshire, which I continue to believe is the maximum size that 'local' democracy can be delivered.

Jeff - The relevent decisions were taken in 1993, and I was deeply disappointed that my good friend, David Hunt ignored my opinion. I was and remain one of the most fierce opponents of what I saw as the end of 'local' democracy in Montgomeryshire. It could be damaging to both of us, but I too see attraction in Simon Jenkins ideas. Powys is too big to provide 'local' democracy and too small to provide strategic vision, no matter how committed its officers and councillors are.

prasit - what a strange view of democracy you must have. As well as being a Parliamentary candidate in Montgomeryshire, I am a long standing member of the local Conservative Association. Our aim is that Montgomeryshire people (as opposed to voters) will look on us as wanting to engage with and work for the area. I spent many years in Local Government and see public service as the main purpose of politicians, whether elected or not.

In pursuit of this aim, I wrote to all Councils in Montgomeryshire asking if I could meet them to discuss matters of greatest concern to them. I have been hugely surprised by the reponse. 17 Councils have invited me to meet them, usually by starting their formal meetings 30 minutes early. I try to follow up the issues raised. These Councils clearly take the view that I'm worth talking to. Perhaps you should be asking yourself why, (and its not that difficult to work out) rather that criticising my and my Association's efforts to engage constuctively with local issues.

Prasit said...

But my point is you are not an elected member.
I can well understand an elected member, or even a councillor being invited.
All well and good after been elected.

Glyn Davies said...

prasit - and why on earth shouldn't a Community Council hold a discussion with a political candidate if they want to? And why would you want to shackle the ability of candidates to engage with opinion makers? Do you really think that candidates should 'butt out' until an election is called? I just don't believe that you hav ethought through your comments.

Glyn Davies said...
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