Careful Collaborators or Complete Charleys?


1. General

As Christmas attracts our attention and places demands upon our pockets, I wish I could tell you that I believe the worst is over: that your county council’s income will be adequate for the next few years and that all of your legitimate expectations will be delivered in the short and medium term.
If I were to do that, I would be a fool, or a liar, or both.

The truth is that we have, as a nation, been living way beyond our means. That was made very clear to me and other senior employed and elected post-holders from councils, police force, fire authority and health, in June, at a meeting of the North Wales Regional Partnership Board. Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Community Affairs informed us, firmly, that the next two already difficult years are going to be as good as it gets in terms of financial support for local authorities from the Welsh Government. After that, the financial support will become even less than it is now.

Carl demanded that the six counties of the North must move from the planning stage of economic austerity into the delivery stage – rapidly! Although he did acknowledge that as far as collaboration goes, we in North Wales are moving faster and are ahead of other Welsh regions
He followed his demand for hard cash savings to be delivered, now, with a warning that if we, collectively, should fail to deliver what was needed, he would wield the Powers in the recently approved Local Government Measure, to impose collaboration and greater togetherness, in order to speed up the cash savings flowing from them.
Lurking behind that warning is the ghostly shadow of 8 larger or even six Regional Local Authorities. Not in 2012 as far as I can judge, but certainly an option for local election shape in 2016.


2. In Safe Financial Hands.

As Leader and Executive Member responsible for finance and asset management, it is my task to see to the delivery of adequate, efficient and cost effective services, right across the board, within the financial limitations that are imposed upon us.
I can truthfully state that, under the control of the Coalition Administration that I lead, your local authority has delivered sound budgets and maintained service delivery over the past three years that we have been in charge. Achieving that, while reducing costs by many millions of £s, has not been easy. We have kept our promise that the annual increase in your Community Charge would not rise above the 3% - 3.5% range, less than under previous administrations and we have avoided the easy option of dozens or hundreds of compulsory redundancies among staff.

Yes, there is much more to do as I have suggested above, but, if, as I hope you will, you give me and the Coaliton, your support next May, we will continue to deliver sound and adequate local government services for you, come what may, despite an initial forecast of a £9Million gap in the 2012-13 figures.


3. Governance and Guts.

When the present administration took control, three pieces of essential work, which should have been cleared some years back, needed progressing. This Coalition Administration has at least had the guts to grasp each of these three particular nettles and attempt to push them along:-


3.1 The Council Housing Ballot.

This of course only concerns those residents living in council houses or flats. All such residents will have a free choice, by a ballot in the New Year, to decide whether they wish to keep the county council as their landlord, or to move away from council, to a new Housing Association who will then become their landlord. The council has adopted a strictly neutral stance over the issue. Independent advisors have been engaged and consultation events have been held over past months.
The fullest information available, in written form, setting out the foreseeable advantages and disadvantages of the two options, will shortly be presented to all council house tenants. There will then be a time for them to consider the options, before the voting day, in Spring of next year.

If the council house tenants vote to stay with the council as their landlord, obviously nothing will change in management and employment terms. Ownership of the houses and land will stay with us and the county will set about putting in the list of promised improvements according to the schedules and affordability that we have made public.

If our tenants should vote to move to the proposed Dee Housing Association, the county will cease to own the houses and land and all of our employees who directly service our housing department will transfer to the new employer on an agreed date. The interests of employees will, of course, be protected through the Transfer of Undertaking (Protection of Employment) Regulations and related enactments.


2. Single Status. This project arose from a call for action from the Welsh Government, going back several years. Flintshire is among the last to deal with the matter. Single Status relates to fairness and equality in terms and conditions of employment. Basically, equal work for equal pay. We need to get away from the present variety of terms and conditions, (Overtime, Holidays, Bonus Payments, etc.) for relatively or identically equal tasks, that have been allowed to develop, in this and other local authorities, over many years. We also need to deal with the differences in pay between men and women doing the same jobs, where such exists. Existing differences have resulted in this county council being taken to Tribunal by a few hundred of our staff in recent years. Other councils have faced similar challenges by greater numbers of staff. That situation is no good for anyone. Working with our staff, both union members and otherwise, we offered a set of proposals in August of 2009, based on affordability, acceptability and legality. Those proposals were NOT acceptable to our employees, despite the Union Officials agreeing to them. So, as a listening Administration, it was back to the drawing board. Now we are approaching the time when a further set of proposals will be put before employees. That should take place in 2012, as early as it can be arranged.


3. Secondary School Modernisation. Oh boy! Way back, last year, the Board of Governors at Elfed School, Buckley, took a good look at the 30% of vacant seats in the school and proposed to the Governors of Argoed Secondary School that they should merge into one modernized school. Let us say that the idea did not find favour with Argoed School’s Governors, or the community around. The Elfed Governors then made a formal application to county council, as the Local Education Authority, for an “Area Review of Educational Provision.” That meant that the county council had to carry out such a Review, which, by Statute, had to draw in the nearest, as well as other Secondary Schools, which happens to be Argoed. Given that circumstance and in view of the Council House Ballot and Single Status issues at least moving forwards, it was time to look at the broader matter of Secondary School Modernisation and the cost of empty school seats right across the county. This was the last of the three outstanding big issues that needed dealing with. So, in June, we decided to progress this issue.

We could have kept our discussions between the Coalition Administration and our Education Department Officers, then put up firm proposals, entered into a Statutory Consultation period and then presented OUR ideas to the Welsh Government. Instead, being a listening and consulting Administration, we chose to begin by opening up an entirely informal and preliminary dialogue with all of the schools potentially involved, to discuss a number of options that were foreseeable and obtain feedback and any options that we might have overlooked.

All of that was intended to happen BEFORE we went anywhere near to a Statutory Consultation period. All very well and good! However, a few days after that Executive Meeting in June, a leak to the press caused the publication of a story that set out alleged “Proposals” for the schools concerned. If I ever find out who did the badly misinformed, or maliciously incorrect leaking, I shall have more than a few words to say to them, believe me, because they have done our children, the schools, the communities and the county, no good at all.

The Wales Government presently has barely £300Million of funding for Schools Modernisation, against a present understanding of around £1.4Billion of need. This county needs to put in a well-reasoned bid, early, to show clearly that it is addressing the problem of surplus school places, or miss out on a share of the little money that is currently available. All that the leak and the miss-information has achieved is to set back our time-table for a bid to improve the county’s schooling situation for future years. Who will the eventual losers probably be? I leave you to make up your own mind.

4. The Growth of Beaurocracy.

Call it paperwork, bumph, or whatever you will, every time that those up there at Wales Government or Audit Office level decide to do a bit more micro-managing, they impose more and more of an administrative, bureaucratic burden upon local authorities. They seem to forget that with every additional sheet, there is an additional cost that takes away funding from the front line of service delivery

As just one example, let me set out the story of Flintshire’s “Annual Statement of Accounts.”
For the Financial Year of 1996-97, it needed to be just 30 pages in length.
By 2007-08, its size had grown to 71 pages.

In 2009-10 it had reached 83 pages, but, further changes meant that for 2010-11, we had to produce a document of 105 pages in length, just to satisfy the latest regulatory requirements.

Does nobody up there apply common sense any more, or have they never heard of the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)?


5. Safeguarding Your Roadways.

While on the subject of what the Welsh Government gets up to that mystifies us, one of their latest antics has been to cut our Highways Maintenance Grant. Prior to April of this year, that Grant funding varied between £727k and £1,316k per annum. That helped us to keep this county’s roads in good order. Now that funding has been withdrawn! You know and I know that while our county’s roads are generally in good order, there is still a whole lot of work that needs doing. Somehow and from somewhere, we at county hall now have to find a replacement for that missing cash, so that road repairs and maintenance can still continue. We will do it, but that will be despite the Welsh Government, not because of them!


6. Safeguarding Your Pennies (1).

This county council spends more than one and a quarter £Millions each year on petrol and diesel fuel for our fleet of vehicles. That requires a whole lot of necessary supervision, checking of records and generally making sure that there is no waste going on, or worse. Some while back, I saw something that made me take a closer look at certain habits, activities and systems. I was able to enlist the assistance of one or two public spirited members of the county community, who fed information in to me. That assistance allowed me to ask some challenging questions and to inspect some records. A disciplinary action resulted. Astute officers appear to have followed on from my inquiry until there are now a half-dozen or so employees suspended on full pay, on allegations of gross miss-conduct, while a formal and full disciplinary inquiry is carried out.

Let this be clearly understood. Flintshire County Council has many, many honest, hardworking, dedicated members of staff, at all levels. They come in early, go home late, work weekends and get little recognition and even less reward. Those employees I will praise, defend, protect and encourage in any way that I can, wherever and whenever I can. However, where any single employee, or group of employees, indulges in malpractices or worse, at improper cost to the public purse, I will not hesitate to act formally, fairly, firmly and fast.


7. Safeguarding Your Pennies (2).

Presently, your County Council operates from too many locations, with Depots all over the place. That expensive spider web of locations has got to go. We cannot continue to waste office space, buildings and yards. A few years back, it was recognised that the Canton Depot site, in Bagillt, was unsuitable as far as buildings went, located in an awkward place and uneconomical as a base for the Housing Repairs Department. It has taken us a while, but, we have now closed down that location and will be putting the site on the market as a saleable asset. We have moved the office staff into the County’s administrative building in Flint, where there is plenty of room for them. This has reduced the average space per workstation there from 14.8 sq. m to 9.5 sq. m. The annual running cost of the Flint building, per member of staff, has dropped from an average of £1468 per person to £939 per person. With over 120 members of staff now in the building, that is a cashable saving of over £63,000 of your money, per year.


8. Heartless? (1)

While on the subject of what the Welsh Government gets up to, try this one. There is a Wales Government Programme called “Supporting People.” It has been running, very successfully, since 2009. It provides support for those vulnerable elements in our society, be they substance abusers, people with learning difficulties, behavioural problems, or the mentally or physically frail of whatever age.

That funding provides wardens in Sheltered Accommodation Units and other support workers out and about in the community, helping vulnerable people to manage their lives and remain safe, sound and secure in their own homes, instead of needing to be placed in soulless Institutions.

Now, the Welsh Government has declared a Review, with the intentions of cutting the funding, from April, 2012. In Flintshire’s case, that means £731k per annum of funding from Cardiff will simply vanish.

Once again, it is all of us, councillors, officers and front-line staff, in county hall who will struggle to keep the service running, keep our employees in their jobs and keep users of the service happy.


9. Heartless?(2)

It may be that I have the reputation of always being concerned for people. If so, it would perhaps account for why I receive a regular stream of requests for assistance, from people who are struggling with problems of all sorts, shapes, sizes, complexities and urgencies. Sometimes, just sometimes, I have been able to help, one way or another.

In July, a divorced lady requested assistance in order to find funding to enable her, as a mature student, to access a Nurse’s Training Course. Despite being a resident, she was unable to get a place on a course here in Wales, but was able to find a place in Chester. Her financial support needs are modest, something in the range of £5k per year for three years. Had she been placed within Wales, her support funding would have been assured. Because she has had to go across the border, her funding has, basically, been halved, although she intends to work in Wales, once qualified.

At county hall, our Benefits Officers were unable to help. Had she had an under 18 year old child living with her, all would have been well. As her child, still at home, is just over 18, no assistance could be offered.

In trying to help, I started by writing a few letters. One went to our First Minister, Carwen Jones in Cardiff and another to our Prime Minister, David Cameron in Westminster. Both letters were sent via recorded mail. From Westminster there came an initial letter of acknowledgement, but as yet, not another word. In the case of Cardiff, somewhat slowly, there came a reply. It was to the effect that there was nothing that they could do to assist. Do some of you remember Lord Tebbit’s words of some years ago? Get on your bike! Learn a skill! There are jobs out there for those who want to work!

We all hear the urgings from our senior politicians. However, when somebody does just what they say, but runs into the unthinking rigidity of rules and regulations and appeals for some modest, fully justifiable and even repayable help, all those in high places do is to deliver a deafening silence.

This particular lady has done all she can, only to be kicked in the teeth by “regulations.” I think it is high time that those in Cardiff and Westminster should recall the wisdom that “Rules are for the guidance of wise people and the blind obedience of fools.”
The lady started her course on 26th September, 2011, with enough resources to survive until Christmas without starting to incur significant debt. Beyond that, who knows? She has that much courage and determination. She deserves to achieve her dream. Meanwhile, I’ll go on hunting for support for her. Wish both of us good luck, please!


10. The New Buckley Medical Centre.

The latest news that is available is that the wrangle between The Developer and the District Valuer is still ongoing. Until that is resolved, all of us, from public to councilors, can only feel more and more frustrated and annoyed, as days go by, that nothing is being done, at Wales Government level, to resolve the obvious impasse.

12. The Buckley Town Masterplan.

You have all seen it, I hope! Some of you are likely to have contributed to it, one way or another. If you have done so, good for you. However, please do remember that this is a “wish list” for the future, not a certainty. If it is to come to fruition, it depends on Flintshire county council being able to obtain ownership of The Potter’s Wheel and the old British Legion building. It then needs a confident Developer of some substance and proven track record to come forward with ideas, supported by sound business cases. Only then will there be any movement on the ground!
Those who are glibly assuring the public that a new superstore will appear in Buckley “In a year or so!” are living in cloud cuckoo land!


13. Politics a la Groucho.

There is a framed quotation from Groucho Marx prominent upon my desk at county hall. I hope that visitors take notice of it. It reads:-


“Politics is the art of looking for trouble;
Finding it everywhere; Diagnosing the causes incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies!”


Many a true word spoken in jest?

Is it any wonder that I am far happier being just an independent representative of the people, rather than a formal party politician? Perhaps that is also why I shall not be pounding on your door, in the run-up to the local government elections due next May, attempting to convince you with glib words that I am a better politician than the other candidates. There will no doubt be several others who will do so. What I bear in mind is that sixty percent of you are so disenchanted with politics and politicians that you have given up even bothering to vote in local elections.

That situation I acknowledge, sorrow over, but respect.


I am interested in your opinions, but more concerned in leaving you in peace and quiet until and unless you need me. If you do wish to tell me your views, or have a debate, just call me on (01244) 549421, or (01352) 702108, or email me at, or


If you do invite me, I shall appear, whenever convenient for you!



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