Mighty Mouse or Mickey Mouse?


There is an ancient wisdom about there being none as blind as those who do not wish to see. I have this sneaking feeling that that ancient wisdom applies to the 10 Members who form the New Labour Executive of Flintshire County Council. For them, all is rosy. Flintshire is doing very well under their control and there is no cause for criticism, concern or change.


All I can say is that they should be where I am. They might see another side to the story. The side that keeps me busy, day by day, trying to find out why public money has been wasted, why repairs to Schools, houses and roadways have not been attended to. Why we have social housing problems, car parking problems, litter and graffiti and dog-fouling unabated.


My purpose is to represent you and to hold the county administration to account on your behalf. Our common interests require capable corporate management of the county’s affairs: The kind of management that delivers prompt, efficient and cost-effective services that make local residents’ lives just that much easier to live.


This County Administration spends damned nearly £1 million per working day. No matter where it comes from, for there are many sources, that is all public money. We all contribute to that income; directly or indirectly. Each one of us would wish to know that the spending of our collective cash is being done to best value and effect.


That is why I have tried to keep a sharp eye on where the pennies have been going to and what value has been obtained for the spending undertaken. What follows may not please you any more than it pleases me.

Budget Matters

From my previous reports you will know that I have been concerned over what I have seen as an annual “Black Hole” in the budget. When I

publicly pointed out a £7.3 million “anomaly” in the 2005-2006 annual budget, Alex Aldridge, Aaron Shotton and other Executive Members each had a few unkind and critical words to offer. Only the Chester Chronicle printed the story. However, it pays to persevere. After many months of resistance, I was finally allowed to sit down and work with capable, sensible and non-political financial officers. Those were County Officers who had access to more refined data than I had been able to access. The result has been that the existence of my perceived “Black Hole” has been confirmed, although my £7.3 million figure has been revised to an agreed £5.837 million. That is £5.837 million of your money, which seems to have been used for purposes not originally intended.


I wrote to the Welsh Assembly over my concerns and called for a full independent financial examination of the county’s accounts. The letter can be seen by clicking here. I did copy the correspondence and the documentary evidence to the leaders of each political party in the Welsh Assembly, as well as the then Minister. With one exception, they really did not wish to know anything about the matter. The exception was the Conservative Leader, who kindly suggested that I might properly place the matter before Price Waterhouse Coopers, who are Flintshire’s District Auditors. My reservation about that particular company is that they are the very people who approved that Budget in the first place!


I have recently had a preliminary meeting with one of the principals of our District Auditors, who is now tasked to make a thorough investigation into the matter in order to find out exactly where the apparently unaccounted money has got to. You may rest assured that I will make certain that investigation will be robust and that you will learn of the result of it.

More Wasted Money

Another ongoing concern has been that of the existence of far too many Agency Staff amid the permanent workforce of the county. This county has an unimpressive record of Sickness Absence. That is usually symptomatic of a demoralised, de-motivated workforce. The use of Agency Staff, good though they can be and very useful in the short term, is NOT a long term solution to staff shortage problems. Indeed, because of the effect Agency

Staffing has in blocking career paths and promotion and because they are on different terms and conditions to those they are working alongside, and they cost much more, the effect of too many Agency Staff in a workforce, over any long period, is highly detrimental.


However, Agency Staff are, admittedly, much easier for Managers to engage, dismiss and administer than permanent employees.

I was able to demonstrate to a Scrutiny Committee that this county has spent in excess of £13 million on Agency Staff over the past four years.


Supporting evidence from staff and union representatives demonstrated the demoralising effects on the county’s permanent workforce.

That £13 million spent on Agency staff is about £4 million over and above the cost of having the same number of permanent, full time staff on the books. So what are you and I paying for? Is it simply to make life easy for idle managers? If it is, it must stop, rapidly!


Another point about the Agency Staffing problem is that nobody has been able to demonstrate to me that the salary money used to pay for these Agency Staff people has been properly authorised for transfer out of the permanent staff salary vote in terms of the Financial Regulations of the county. That is glaringly obvious to anyone who looks at the records. However, my attempts to have this aspect examined were blocked by the ruling party and their voting clout in the Scrutiny Committee.

What I wanted was management accountability for the waste of public money. What New Labour wanted was a curtain drawn over the affair, without any “blame” being attached to any of the managers involved. That spineless stance is not proper management.

Out of our Pockets and into His!

Mr. Hamilton may not have got his way over his interest in Wrexham Football Club. However, he has had a more than generous compensation, through the kind courtesy of Flintshire County Council, by way of our pockets. You see, last year a piece of land in the possession of the Council came up for sale. Quite close to the “Tesco” roundabout in Mold. County valuators set a price of £650,000 on it. Somehow, just somehow, Mr. Hamilton managed to get into the position of being the ONLY bidder for this very valuable piece of undeveloped real estate. Why very valuable? Well, let me finish the story. Mr Hamilton already owned a slightly smaller parcel of land adjoining the Flintshire owned piece. For that first piece of land he paid £550,000. Both pieces already had a Development Brief in place, which almost guaranteed that planning permission for both sites would be granted if it was applied for.


Not withstanding that, when Mr. Hamilton somehow became the sole person bidding, he was allowed to enter into a contract with Flintshire County Council, by which he only needed to put down 10% of the sale price, say £65,000. The arrangement was that he would only have to pay the remaining £585,000 once planning permission was given by Flintshire County Council for the development of the site!


So, the necessary planning application was put in by Mr. Hamilton. It was of course approved; by Flintshire County Council’s own Planning Committee, which has a majority of New Labour councillors on it. At that moment, with planning approval on it, that same piece of land became extremely valuable, rather than just very valuable. Mr. Hamilton promptly wrote the necessary cheque in the sum of £585,000 to Flintshire County Council and, probably without even changing pens, signed the deal that saw him sell the two parcels of land together for £3.1 million, giving him an immediate personal profit of £1.9 million. Over half of that money should have been realised by the County itself, on your behalf, because all they had to do was to grant themselves planning permission BEFORE the land was offered for sale.


I can report that once the transaction became generally known about, to people such as me, who are not on the planning committee, there was a bit of a kerfuffle. That produced an internal inquiry, which managed to find that nobody had done anything improper. More recently, an interested observer drew to my notice that the internal inquiry only dealt with the County’s own internal procedures, not the Law governing sale of publicly owned land, which perhaps suggests that there should be more than ONE bidder when such land is put up for sale. That issue is now being looked at, by our External Auditors, with me hovering over it with both beady eyes wide open. I will of course report back to you what becomes of that inquiry.

Concluding the Monetary Madness Items

Think it through like this. In round figures, we have £6 million “astray” over a budgetary anomaly. Then we have around £4 million wasted over Agency Staff. Finally there is the near £1 million profit that Mr. Hamilton walked away with. That is nearly £11 million. Collectively, those of us who pay Community Charge contribute some £47 million each year to the county’s coffers. If that £11 million had not been miss-managed, but instead saved, our current year Community Charge could have been reduced by some 23%. Work that out as nearly one quarter of your current bill. Alternatively, next years predicted budget deficit of £4 million would already have been dealt with!

Foundations and Basics

I have informed you before that such is the incompetence of the New Labour Executive that they have been blundering along for ten years now without even knowing exactly how many employees they have, or having any way to properly match salary spend with employee numbers. I have made all the noises I can about it for the past three years, but, as usual, the New Labour Executive simply does not wish to know and the Officers responsible simply wring their hands and plead that shortcomings in the “IT Systems” are the cause of the problem.


On the 5 th June, 2007, the New Labour Executive held one of its regular meetings. Sitting around that table were:- Councillors Aaron Shotton, (Chairman) {and Leader!}, Bernie Attridge, Chris Bithell, Derek Butler, Mrs. Glenys Diskin, Mrs. Ros. Griffiths, Kevin Jones, Peter MacFarlane, David Wilkes and Gareth Williams {Deputy Leader}. Each of them very glad and grateful, no doubt, to be receiving, at the least, the £15,957 “Responsibility Allowance” on top of their basic £12,558 that every Councillor receives.

Item 7 on the Agenda dealt with the latest of the regular reports about Sickness Absence. The Director of Corporate Strategy, Mrs. Julia Lorkin, presented the report. Apart from the fact that the sickness absence figures are way too high, one of the figures provided was the number of Full Time Equivalent posts within FCC for 2006-2007. Each member of the Executive had the report in front of them. 5,736.73 was the precise figure as written.


Now I have to ask a favour of you. Look up your Council Tax Guide Book for 2007-2008. Every household received a copy along with the Community Charge bill for this current year. Take a peek at Page 10, down in the bottom left hand corner. There you will find the 2006-2007 figure of FTE employees, which, according to that document, was 4,981.1


So, we have a difference of 755.63 employee positions between the two documents. That is an “uncertainty” of something over 13%.

I am not even going to ask you to ponder over which of the two sets of figures might be the correct one, if either is correct, that is. What I am going to ask you to do is to worry a bit about why the Director, or any one of the Executive Members, failed to spot the discrepancy. It is all too symptomatic of the disjointed, careless AND UNQUESTIONING attitude of the Executive. Why can they not see what is there to be seen?


The problem for you and I is that these errors, peculiarities, uncertainties,

call them what you will, translate into Pounds and Pennies at Budget time. Has the county budgeted to pay for 5,736 employees or for 4,981? If the greater number, where will the spare salary money go to and why? If the lesser, how will there be money to pay the salaries of the extra 755? Uncertainties such as these lead to monetary mismanagement, which brings us back to Black Holes, etc!

When Decrease Becomes Incrlease

A couple of years back, the pressures to save money resulted in proposals to re-structure Flintshire County Council. Between January of 2006 and September of that year, 111.1 FTE jobs were, supposedly, cut from the establishment. Redundancy packages were on offer. Employees departed, at all levels. Employees shifted from one job to another and from one office to another.


Up-front “severance costs” of a couple of £millions were declared to be a wise thing, because that would lead to ongoing year by year savings due to the fewer number of employees.

In the appropriate committee, at the appropriate time, I did ask from exactly what number of employees were we taking the 111.1 that were going. The then Chief Executive, Mr. McGreevy, and the then Finance Director, Mrs. Lynne Blake, were unable to answer the question, because, as mentioned already, they simply did not and still do not know exactly how many employees the county really did or now does have.


So, let us return to that Executive Committee Meeting of 5 th June, 2007 and that Sickness Absence Report that was presented to them by Mrs. Julia Lorkin, Director of Corporate Strategy.

Picture it clearly, please. Sitting around the table are the ten great and good brains which are deciding everything for us all. There is the Sickness Absence Report before them. Hopefully they have read it. They damned well should have done because otherwise what are they there for? On the same page as the Full Time Equivalent Employee figure of 5736.73 for the 2006-2007 year, there is the equivalent employment figure for the previous year of 2005-2006.


Somehow, that just happens to tell us that we then had 5630.62 Full Time Equivalents. In other words, where we were supposed to lose 111.1 FTEs over the period January to September, 2006, we have ended up at 31 st March, 2007, with 106.11 ADDITIONAL STAFF.

What did the Executive Committee do? They failed to see the peculiarity, indeed the contradiction, within these figures, failed to inquire into them and just accepted them. What did the Director do? After all, this is the lady who has charge of our Human Resource function. She also saw nothing peculiar in the figures. Well, if she did see what was there to be seen, she chose not to provoke a debate about it.


The New Labour Executive Committee is supposed to properly Plan, Organise, Motivate and Control the affairs of Flintshire County Council. On the level of capability displayed on 5 th June, 2007, they failed miserably.

That has, unfortunately, been the record for the past ten years. It has cost the residents Flintshire dearly.

Give a thought to the saving of one quarter of your Community Charge over the last ten years. About £2,200?


Never let it be said that our Executive Members miss everything by way of opportunity to save money. They have declined the opportunity to expand the Occupational Therapy team. The fact is that now, as people grow older, as we all hope we shall, we need the occasional handrail here or there. Maybe even a ramp at the front or back door, or a move from a standard house to a bungalow. All of that starts with a visit from the Occupational Therapy team. Recently, I called for such a visit to one ward member who is well advanced in years. I was advised that there is now a five month long waiting list for routine visits. I have had to inform that resident that there will be a long wait before her needs are even looked at. I am not amused, nor should you be.


Oh, by the way, if you feel it is unfair to pick on one small item, add this to it. Our population is aging. Thank Heaven, we are living longer. An intelligent Executive Committee would have the vision to understand that and plan accordingly. For instance, older people eventually have trouble cutting lawn grass and hedges. Especially if they are, as many are, living frugally on nothing more than the standard state retirement pension. Professional gardeners cost a bob or two. That is why there has been a County Council funded scheme available to help such people.


Recently I sought to have one of our older residents added on to the scheme. “Sorry” was the reply. “Not taking on any more people because we have run out of funding and we’ve been told there is no additional money available.”


Don’t the Executive Members give a damn for the needs of those residents less fortunate or able than they are? It would appear not!


I recently looked at how the Directors and Executive Committee have been managing and controlling the corporate fleet of vehicles. This is an essential part of Council activities, in terms of both vehicles and the cost of fuel to run them. I asked some awkward questions. Those questions caused an internal inquiry. Two months work by an internal audit team has confirmed my worst fears. There is a total lack of proper, auditable records

or process relating to fuel purchase and usage. The indications are that unscrupulous individuals have taken advantage of the loopholes. The present system is so slack that I doubt anyone will ever be brought to account over it. Meanwhile, I am demanding a tightening of the system and proper management of that system. Once again, The Executive Committee has let us all down by failing to properly manage the fuel supplies for the transport fleet. More of your money gone down the drain; just how much, we will never know.

Castle Cement Works and Compensation Claims

If your house, car, or garden have suffered, or are currently suffering from the effects of dust, noise, odour or night-time light coming out of Padeswood Cement Works, please get in touch with me. You do not have to suffer in angry, frustrated silence over etched window glass, corroded metalwork, discoloured roof tiles or any other form of blight caused by Padeswood Cement Works. After more than three years of careful legal research, I have commenced the process of seeking compensation for all such residents, by way of a “Class Action” through the High Court. There is no cost involved and no risk. Just the time needed to tell your story by way of a statement. If you wish to know more, do get in touch with me.


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