A Honeypot for some, a Heartbreak for Others


When I, as an experienced and qualified manager, cannot satisfy myself about exactly where something in the order of £8 million per year of your money has been going to, I become concerned and start asking questions. Do read on if you wish to find out more about that matter.


However, perhaps I am not the only one who is a little concerned at how our county council is being managed, because:-

In June of this year, the county's external auditors issued a "Report in the Public Interest". Although it concentrated upon the failures of the Housing Directorate, it contained the following comment:-


“This report is primarily concerned with the housing repair service, but we believe there are some significant implications for the authority as a whole. It is clear that the service has been failing for some years, and we note it received adverse comments from the Audit Commission in 2001. We are concerned that its problems were not targeted by the Council with the degree of vigour we would have expected; the service was not explicitly monitored and it was not given clear delivery and performance targets.

As a result the improvement process was left primarily to the Director, and in the event many of its evident problems were not tackled.”


I really do wish that I could relate that the functioning of the County Council has improved over the past year. Regrettably, for my purpose, which is that of seeking cost effectiveness, efficiency, or service delivery that is prompt and capable, or even some basic accountability when performance is poor, I find myself still struggling, on your behalf, to obtain any progress at all.

That is not to say that everything has stood still for a year. Far from it! We have seen the previous New Labour Leader of the Council, Alex Aldridge, awarded an OBE almost at the same time as he decided to retire from the political Leadership position on medical advice. Despite that resignation, his is still a strident voice in council and committee deliberations.


We have seen the County Secretary, Mr. Andrew Loveridge, take the opportunity to leave as part of the recent restructuring exercise designed to cut costs and balance the books. Along with those two moves, the Chief Executive, Mr. Phillip McGreevy, decided to take early retirement and has gone.


On 6th Septembe, 2006, the early retirement of Mrs. Lynne Blake, the Chief Financial Officer came into effect. Also, nobody should forget that, in December of last year, Mr. Steve Partner was suspended from his position of Director of Housing Services. He remains suspended, on full pay, until some resolution of the uncertainty surrounding his past performance, his ability or inability, is properly cleared up.


That situation imposed an ongoing additional cost of £700:00 per day, from January 2006, through to 20 th July, 2006, for an interim replacement Director, brought in via an Agency selection. In fairness to the suspended officer, I would have expected a far more rapid resolution of this particular issue than has occurred. A couple of months ago, Steve Partner’s Deputy, Mr. John Hoogerwerf, was suspended on full pay and sent home pending an inquiry. At the end of September we learned that Mr. Barry Evans, another senior member of that department, had somewhat unexpectedly decided to take a retirement option and leave.


In those circumstances, is it any wonder that the council’s statutorily required Housing Business Plan recently failed to gain approval from the Welsh Assembly. It has been returned for re-consideration and re-structuring. That leaves us with four newly appointed and part-time Interim Managers, tasked with “sorting out” the Housing Department and producing another Housing Business Plan. Hopefully one that is, this time, acceptable to the Welsh Assembly.

No Change

It would have been an optimistic opposition councillor who might have looked to any sudden or dramatic change in Cabinet policy or philosophy when the late Derek Darlington took over the role of Majority Leader from Alex Aldridge.

However, Derek’s thoughtful leadership, tragically short as it was, had begun to steer the thinking of Cabinet and the majority party towards more openness and better dialogue with other elements within the council. I and many others, on all sides of the political spectrum, hope that tentative movement will continue, nomatter who may replace Derek. Regrettably, until any such greater moves do occur, the Cabinet, which is the decision-making body for the governance of the county, still remains an entirely one-party affair.


One County Council out of only 6 in Wales that have not yet “seen the light” as it were. Currently, as a reminder to you, those New Labour Councillors who make up that all-powerful Cabinet are;-

Aaron Shotton, David Wilkes, Peter McFarlane, Glenys Diskin, Chris Bithell, Ros. Griffiths, Kevin Jones and Gareth Williams.


They are not obliged to take any notice of comments, criticisms, recommendations, or even resolutions, made by any individual Councillor, or any of the Scrutiny Committees. For the Full Council its self to successfully act against them would require a “Vote of No Confidence” supported by their own party members. That is a most unlikely event.

You may recall that I made that point clear last year. I take this opportunity to remind you of it, because, for as long as they claim and exercise their

right, by way of a very slim majority, to maintain total control over the county’s affairs, so they must, solely and rightly, carry the entire responsibility for the continuation of the many significant problems facing this council and the residents they are supposed to govern on behalf of.


Those problems are numerous and varied, but, basically they all rotate around years of incompetence and mismanagement, as reflected in the external auditors’ report quoted from as above.

Getting No Answers (1)

A year ago I advised you all that I could not find any satisfactory answers to questions such as:- How many people does the County Authority actually employ? How many are in position? Who carries out their Annual Appraisals? Who follows up to see to any training needs? Are there any sickness/absence problems? Why are we spending several £ millions, not budgeted for, each year on Agency Staff? Why does nobody seem to ever be accountable for any of the slip-ups, errors, mistakes, failures and omissions that seem to permanently infest the administration’s activities?


I wish I could record for you that I have had co-operation, help and advice on getting answers, but that would be dishonest of me. What I have encountered is political defensiveness and an organizational culture that is keen to “pass the buck,” or blame “the limitations of the system.” It is one that is far happier spending its time contemplating its own navel instead of getting things done. It is also one that does not wish for any inquiry into its past activities. Let me give you one example.


On 15 th May of this year, I sent a letter of inquiry to the acting Chief Executive, Mr. C. Kay. Click here to see the letter.

Click here to see the follow up letter 6 months later.


On 25th September 2006 I sent a letter to the Chairman and members of the People and Performance OV&S Committee with regard to Agency staff and Related matters. Click here to see the letter.


A Minority Report arising from the considerations of the People and Performance Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the issue of Flintshire County Council's position over its use of agency staff can be seen by clicking here.


What the initial letter dealt with was why has the authority, for several years, operated at about 15% below the number of working employees that it budgets for? My own inquiries have brought to light documentation that sets out, that out of an advised figure of 4433 non-teaching staff, the authority has been functioning with about 3734 employees actually in place.


That is in the order of a 15.76% under-staffing. Currently there is, by the way, no precise control method of matching payroll expenditure data to employee numbers data. Lyn Blake confirmed that to me well before she retired. If one then adds the 4% sickness/absence figure, there is a reasonable argument that, nominally, something like 20% of the intended workforce is not, and has not been, present to beaver away on your and on my behalf. Is it any wonder that the county’s workload appears to exceed its capacity to attend to it?


Since, in round terms, the non-teaching staff wage costs are indicated at £76 million, the apparent shortfall represents £11.98 million per annum, which, on the face of it, cannot, or should not, have been spent.

If my representations are correct, and I believe they are, there are some serious questions that require some serious answers. However, presently, some six months after being presented with my letter, the Acting Ch. Executive has, despite two face to face discussions, been unable to provide me with any satisfactory answers. The matter is now before a Scrutiny Committee upon which I sit as a co-opted member. I give you my assurance that only when real and genuine answers appear shall I stop asking questions.

Getting No Answers (2)

One part of those answers lies in the matter of Agency Staff.

The record of the Count authority is that there are many Agency Staff employees occupying posts at all sorts of levels. Worryingly, exactly how many appears to be an unknown quantity. Even just how many Agencies are involved appears to be doubtful. The cost of those individuals has been advised, in a September 12 th report by the Actg. Ch. Executive as having been £2.17 million in 2002-2003, steadily rising to £4.56 million in 2005-2006.


No evidence has been provided to me, as yet, that these are properly budgeted, correctly processed and appropriately authorized expenditures.

There is a connection here to the millions of £s that I mentioned on the previous page. That is because, in round terms, take £4.56 million from £12 million and start asking what has become of the other £7.5 million per annum, multiplied by the several past years. That question I have, on your behalf, asked. There has been no satisfactory answer to date. However, on your behalf, whether through the Scrutiny Committee, or outside of it, my determination is that some Accountability of Officers or Decision-making Members must exist, no matter who feels the weight of it, or how uncomfortable that weight might prove to be.

Getting No Answers (3)

Ever since the inquiry into the failings of the Community Housing and Environment Directorate early last year, the matter of Annual Appraisal of employees has been an issue.


The unfortunate Steve Partner was, apparently, only appraised once in ten years. That is not fair to him, or to you and me, yet it happened, under the management of the entirely New Labour Cabinet.

Possibly arising from that disclosure, very recently it has been recommended that every employee should have an Annual Appraisal. Whoopie!!! Has some light penetrated at last??? Well, not a lot, because the target date for achieving that is by 2009. That is three whole years away.


Surely, for every employee that FCC has, admitted that we don’t really know just how many we do have, there is a line manager?

If such a person exists, as they should, each should be capable of keeping a simple record of employee achievement against job description. Matters of time keeping, absences, effort, complaints, compliments, etc., so that they can sit down one afternoon in the year and talk over those notes with their subordinate. An annual giving of guidance, handing out pats on the back or suggestions for improvement and arranging any internal or external training and support required? If they are not capable of that, they have no right to be line managing anyone. So, why can the Annual Appraisal system not be implemented as of now? Ask the New Labour Cabinet Members!

Getting No Answers (4)

Please remember that ordinary councilors, such as I am, can only represent your individual and collective problems to those in authority. That it is the Cabinet Members and the Operational Officers who directly control policies and the day by day services upon which we all depend.


There is no way that I can demand or compel those individuals to give any of you some better service that might be being provided elsewhere, or even the level or speed of service that I might feel you deserve.. I can only draw their attention to anyone’s particular situation and seek a fair prioritization according to the urgency of their need.


That effort I have energetically made. So much so, that I am regarded as a thorough “nuisance” in certain offices at County Hall and elsewhere. I take some encouragement from that situation.


What does not encourage me is when my representations achieve little or no positive result, or only achieve a result after an overly long delay.

Example:- A concreted driveway to a council house. The driveway is in a poor condition, apparently because the concrete was laid, many years back, without any hardcore or any sound foundation underneath it. In February of 2005 a young child received an injury because of the broken state of the concrete drive. I reported that happening to Housing Repairs. I made it a Health and Safety issue. I did indicate that a replacement of the whole drive was most likely needed, which would mean a capital expenditure item, rather than a repair one. I was advised of a Work Ticket Number and assured that it would be looked at and attended to once winter weather was reliably over. In the middle of summer of 2005, when nothing had been done, I chased it up. I was advised that it was “on the current list and would be done shortly.”


By September of last year, when nothing had yet been done, I inquired about it some more. In the absence, on holiday, of the more senior person who had previously been my contact, I ended up speaking with a more junior one. That individual, not being familiar with the item, kindly looked up the computer records.


He immediately advised me that the particular Work Ticket Number had endorsed against it, “Not before March, 2006.” There was no indication that any capital works bid had been made for it for the 2005-2006 financial year.

I set out to try to gain access to the office and computer concerned, to see for myself what was there on the record. I discovered that no ordinary councillor has the right to do that. All that I could have done was to have submitted a formal complaint about the misinformation given to me, with a request that the issue be investigated. That would have been a pointless exercise because the whole set of conversations had been on a one to one basis over the telephone.


What I did do was to more formally register my requirement for the work to be carried out, via the monitoring officer and the Executive Member then responsible, Cllr. Ros Griffiths. I was advised that because of the situation within Housing Repairs and the need for the Interim Director to have time to sort things out, not much would happen quickly.

A couple of months ago, a young lady visited the same house. She was in the early stages of pregnancy, which was fortunate, because the fall that she sustained due to the poor condition of the concrete driveway, caused no serious injury, which it might have done in later weeks.

After a further letter from me, reporting the latest minor injury, and reminding County that they have a duty of care here, I was contacted by the Executive Member for Housing, in order to attempt to sort out some apparent confusion between my formal complaint about that driveway and another formal complaint that I have had to submit over the equally dreadful saga of a failed roof repair not many houses away.


Will the necessary driveway job now get done, without more delay? I hope so, but I cannot guarantee it. All I can guarantee is that I shall keep on being a nuisance until the job is done. Hopefully before any more injuries are caused.

Getting No Answers (5)

From the £ millions potentially involved in peculiarities over Strength/Establishment, right down to much smaller issues, the matter of accountability, or more properly the lack of that essential item, looms large.


One senior manager stated, very bravely, that Flintshire is a county administration in which Directors do not direct, Managers do not manage and Supervisors do not supervise. Perhaps that is too sweeping a generalization, because there are many good people in the system. Some of them I have encountered, so perhaps there is hope yet.


However, typical of the “Why has that been permitted?” question that I find myself often asking, is the matter of the poor quality of the “dropped-kerbs” that have been put in place at some road junctions, so that less able pedestrians and the users of mobility scooters can get across roadways, from pavement to pavement, safely.


If you readers take a look at the driveway to your house, provided you have one, you will find that the kerb-stone line had been dropped to tarmac level so that your car can roll in and out smoothly.


When you are next out in Buckley Town, shopping or whatever, look closely at some of the dropped kerb-stones around the place. You will note that the edges of some of them are 2 to 2.5 inches above the gutter/tarmac level. A drop of that magnitude can, unfortunately, overturn a mobility scooter.

Would you believe that there is a statutory regulation that provides that such dropped kerbs should be no higher than six (6) millimeters above the gutter/tarmac surface? So, who supervised the work that created these badly constructed dropped kerbs? Who inspected the work and signed off the paperwork that paid for it? Whoever it was, they failed to do their job properly, yet nobody has been made accountable for the failure.


Not that anyone wishes to see somebody fired over the matter. However,

ignored it should not be, because it is a typical example of those all too numerous failures to supervise, manage, or direct the functions of County staff that permeate Flintshire County Council, from bottom to top.

It is, in the end, the responsibility of the Chief Executive and the Cabinet, in whom all power and all responsibility ultimately resides, to ensure the smooth and cost effective running of your County Council.

Have they, at that level come up to the high standard of management that is required? I’ll leave you to decide!

Matters of the Environment

North Wales does have a Waste Management Strategy. Flintshire is part of it. Flintshire’s Executive Committee has decided to deal with the domestic “black bag waste” by a system known as MHT/RDF. In simple language that means that the mixed waste in your black bin liner will receive a thermal treatment, some sorting and a further processing that will produce a Refuse Derived Fuel. The idea is to divert that waste away from landfill. There are three reasons for that need for diversion. First, we are running out of suitable places to dump the stuff. Second, we need to stop the emission of Methane and other substances from such dumps, because of the environmental damage those chemicals are doing. Third, recent European Legislation means that in a few short years, we will be fined £200:00 per tonne for every tonne of household waste sent to landfill, above our permitted annual allocation.


That means getting together with a Developer. Then building a dedicated plant, at some many millions of £ in costs, probably involving PFI, probably a 25 year contract and guarantees that the County will maintain a stipulated quantity of municipal solid waste, year by year, for processing in the plant so that the plant can operate at a profit during its lifetime. It also means finding a way of disposing of the Refuse Derived Fuel, which will have to be directed to an incinerator or a cement kiln, both of which will charge a Gate Fee per tonne for burning the material in order to dispose of it. That method of disposal will, of course, mean that there are undesirable emissions to air and ash to be disposed of. However, that is what the Executive decided to be intent upon. Certainly it accords with Westminster’s pro-incineration policy.

Apart from the fact that that is financially risky, in a world of fast changing technology, it is not the system of choice of the Welsh Assembly and is certainly not in keeping with the philosophy of Zero Waste, which recommends that we Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, Recover and Dispose of Waste in that order of priority.


How we got to this decision might interest you, because it illustrates the totally arrogant control with which the Executive Committee, or the One Party State as I call them, can and often does treat any democratic decision of a Scrutiny Committee when that decision does not agree with their own intentions.


In January, after the Executive announced their decision, I was able to make a presentation to a Scrutiny Committee looking at the matter of Waste Management in Flintshire. I showed them a twenty minute film, presented a set of appropriate paperwork and made some representations concerning the Zero Waste Philosophy.


That politically balanced committee, with its majority of New Labour County Councillors, voted unanimously to decline to accept the MHT/RDF strategy decided upon by the Executive and to recommend that further consultation should take place, with a Zero Waste option included. Was that recommendation complied with by the nine members of the Executive Committee? Not a chance! The Executive waited ninety days, substituted a number of the members of that committee for some of their more politically loyal and reliable heavy hitters and brought the matter back to the Scrutiny Committee for “re-consideration.” The result this time around was a 6 to 5 vote to continue with the MHT/RDF policy. There you have just one example of the Executive Committee’s attitude towards democratic process.

In Conclusion

With your help and co-operation change can be created and improvement brought about. It will take a team effort. First though, we have to get rid of the One Party State mentality and the arrogance that goes with it.


Meanwhile, with the Festive Season fast approaching, I wish you all a peaceful, safe and enjoyable time. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.


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