WELSH Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews did not pull any punches when making the case for reform of local government. Highlighting events
in Pembrokeshire as an example of why reform was needed, the minister heavily criticised the authority over the size of former chief Bryn Parry- Jones’s remuneration package and was scathing about the perks doled out to the man dubbed ‘Pensioner of the Year’ by Private Eye. Leighton Andrews gave a hint that he anticipated movement from the UK Labour Party on the controversial Barnett formula, by which public funds are distributed across the UK.
Responding to a question about the commitment in the 2011 Assembly Manifesto to redress the balance of public funding between the different parts of the UK, the Minister told The Herald: “Ed Milliband has made it clear that he wants to see a fair funding formula for Wales and he will, I am sure, have something to say about this at this weekend’s Welsh Labour conference.”
He also said that he was open to the idea of reforming Dyfed as a local authority area, from which Pembrokeshire gained hard-fought independence only eighteen years ago. Visiting Pembrokeshire to discuss local government reform and council leadership, the Minister said: “We want to see a very clear distinction between the role of leader of the council and the role of the Chief Executive. In many authorities in Wales, there is clarity and people understand their roles and the difference between the political leadership and the executive leadership of the authority. Other authorities, however, we regard as being officer-led.
I think councillors have been afraid to challenge senior officers and we have, I’m afraid, seen some evidence of this in Pembrokeshire.” On the issue of the Chief Officer’s remuneration he was equally forthright: “I do not think it is acceptable for any chief executive to have a car allowance that is over twice the basic pay of other council employees, or that it can be considered appropriate for a council chief executive to be offered a luxury car, like a Porsche, by the local authority.
I think that the situation we have seen here, in Pembrokeshire, has demonstrated that things have got completely out of hand. We have taken measures to tackle this by establishing an Independent Remuneration Panel to assess senior officers’ pay. In the White Paper, we speak about an Appointments Commission for Wales for senior council staff.
I think that is a proposal that is worthy of consideration.” Highlighting a policy area that will strike accord with opposition parties at County Hall, the Minister detailed proposals to ensure that councillors are accountable to their electorate: “We have a lot to say about the political leadership in the White Paper; including the way in which we think leaders should present a manifesto so that they can be held to the promises they make.”
Mr Andrews did not underestimate the size of the task he faces or the magnitude of the test ahead: “I would say on balance that most council leaders would prefer the status quo. But I do not think that is a viable option. We have seen over recent years, service failures in social services and in education services. When I was education minister, of course, I had to intervene in Pembrokeshire. We have seen a lot of stories about the perks and payoffs of Chief Executives, not least in Pembrokeshire and the scandal of the Porsche.
I think that the public are getting fed up with what has been going on with local government in Wales. I don’t think that anybody in an ideal world would have created a system with 22 councils.” He continued: “I don’t think it will be an easy sell. There will be widespread public debate on the issue and the discussions that are ongoing will not be finished by the time of the next Assembly elections in 2016. There will need to be a consensus to move forward in the Assembly and that will require at least one other party to come on board with the Welsh Government, in my view.”
The Herald pointed out that, on the basis of what Carmarthenshire Council Leader Kevin Madge, a Labour member, had told it last year, that there was not even consensus within the Labour Party on local government reform. Acknowledging the point with good humour, Mr Andrews told us: “There is division in every political party within Wales, based on the conversations I’ve had. I think that is inevitable. Change of this nature needs a lot of discussion and, let’s be honest about this, there are a lot of vested interests involved in the process. There has been a lot of conversations over the last twelve months and those discussions will continue.”
We asked the minister about the prospect of forcing councils to merge, pointing out that Ceredigion had declined the chance to discuss merger with Pembrokeshire when it was the Williams Commission’s preferred option: “I am going to meet the Ceredigion leader later. While the Williams Commission suggested a merger with Ceredigion, it also set out the option of reforming Dyfed as a local authority area. So, there is more than one option to consider going forward.”
We asked how the reorganization would be funded, bearing in mind that councils are feeling the effect of Westminster’s cut in funding to the Welsh Government, which then has to pass on those cuts to local authorities under its control: “These are tough times, and tough times for everybody within local government. There is a cost to merging and a cost to not merging. We have given councils the opportunities to collaborate better together, to look at appointing officers together and save council tax payers’ money.
They have failed to do that and the opportunity costs of not merging are sometimes overlooked.” It seemed from his answer that the minister thought that the savings made would fund the costs of mergers. We asked whether that was really the case: “Ultimately I think that will be true. We have seen a number of estimates of the level of savings that will be made. A review commissioned by the Welsh Local Government Association suggested that savings of £65m a year could be made.
Those are very substantial savings. We will look at all of the costings as we look at our proposals.” One particular proposal that has attracted a lot of comment is that of term limits on service both as a councillor and as a member of a council’s cabinet. We asked whether the Minister would lobby for term limits for AM’s, as well: “I’m relaxed about that. We don’t have a government policy on it. However, we don’t have the powers to set term limits for Assembly Member: that is reserved to the UK government.”
Wizardry night a success at Aberystwyth Library
The fourth Harry Potter Book Night was held at Aberystwyth Library on Friday, 07 February.
After dark, it was a time for fans to celebrate the iconic series of books with events all around the World.
Ceredigion Library Service held the event at Aberystwyth Town Library, which was decorated with all things Harry Potter.
Emyr Lloyd and Delyth Huws, both Assistant Librarians organised the night. They were very pleased with the success and turnout. Emyr Lloyd said, “We enjoy putting on the Harry Potter Book night. The fourth one was no different with 86 children attending the free event and very positive feedback. We hope events such as these spark a joy of reading in the young and old.”
Three Owls from New Quay Birds of Prey came by and Luke the close-up magician entertained the audience. The children were also entertained with a reading from one of the books and also a crafts and activities area.
Follow the events of the Ceredigion Library Service on Facebook @llyfrgellceredigionlibrary. The next event will be a sale of stock on 22 February between 10am and 4pm at the Bandstand in Aberystwyth.
Noson hudolus yn Llyfrgell Aberystwyth
Cynhaliwyd Noson Llyfrau Harry Potter yn Llyfrgell Aberystwyth ddydd Gwener, 07 Chwefror. Hon oedd y bedwaredd noson o’r fath.
Ar ôl iddi nosi, roedd hi’n amser i edmygwyr y llyfrau ddathlu’r gyfres eiconig gyda digwyddiadau ledled y byd.
Cynhaliodd Gwasanaeth Llyfrgell Ceredigion y digwyddiad yn Llyfrgell Tref Aberystwyth, ac addurnwyd y llyfrgell gyda phob math o bethau sy’n gysylltiedig â Harry Potter.
Trefnwyd y noson gan Emyr Lloyd a Delyth Huws, Llyfrgellwyr Cynorthwyol. Roeddent yn falch iawn â llwyddiant y noson a’r nifer oedd yn bresennol yn y digwyddiad. Dywedodd Emyr Lloyd, “Rydym yn mwynhau cynnal nosweithiau Llyfrau Harry Potter. Nid oedd y bedwaredd noson o’r fath yn eithriad; mynychodd 86 o blant y digwyddiad am ddim, a derbyniwyd adborth cadarnhaol iawn. Rydym yn gobeithio y bydd digwyddiadau fel y rhain yn swyno’r hen a’r ifanc i fwynhau darllen.”
Daeth tair tylluan o Adar Ysglyfaethus Cei Newydd i’r digwyddiad, a bu Luke yn diddanu’r gynulleidfa gyda’i hud a’i ledrith. Diddanwyd y plant hefyd gyda darlleniad o un o’r llyfrau ac ardal gweithgareddau a chrefftau.
Dilynwch ddigwyddiadau Gwasanaeth Llyfrgell Ceredigion ar Facebook @llyfrgellceredigionlibrary. Y digwyddiad nesaf yw arwerthiant stoc ar 22 Chwefror rhwng 10am a 4pm yn y Bandstand yn Aberystwyth.
Warnings issued as Storm Ciara predicted to hit west Wales
NATURAL RESOURCES WALES (NRW) is urging people living near the Welsh coast to be prepared for possible flooding this weekend as Storm Ciara reaches the UK.
Current forecasts indicate that strong winds could cause a tidal surge and large waves hitting the coast.
Combined with heavy rainfall which is likely to see rivers rise quickly, NRW expects to issue flood alerts and possibly warnings across the country from Saturday afternoon through to Monday.
With the worst of the conditions expected on Sunday, NRW advises people to keep a safe distance from coastal paths, promenades, piers, and from river banks.
Emergency response workers from NRW are already making preparations ahead of the storm, checking defences are in good working order and making sure any drainage grids and screens are clear, to reduce the risk to people and their homes.
Richard Preece, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Our teams are keeping a close eye on forecasts and predicted river and sea levels this weekend, and if necessary, will issue flood warnings to registered properties in those areas at risk.
“We have already been speaking with our partners from the emergency services and the local authorities so they can put their plans into action.
“We are also warning people to avoid visiting the sea front due to the risk of being swept away by large waves or hit by wave and wind-blown debris.
“Flood water can also be extremely dangerous, and people should not attempt to walk or drive through it unless instructed by the emergency services.”
Network Rail and Transport for Wales have issued joint information ahead of Storm Ciara, which is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rain to the Wales and Borders route this weekend.
The Met Office has issued a yellow wind warning for the whole of the UK and two yellow rain warnings on Sunday.
Transport for Wales Operations Director Martyn Brennan and Amanda Newton, Senior Incident Officer at Network Rail said: “With Storm Ciara set to bring gale force winds of up to 90mph on Sunday, Transport for Wales and Network Rail wish to urge all customers to check their journeys prior to travel.
“We’re expecting very stormy conditions, high tides and winds that have the potential to uproot trees and damage infrastructure.
“The safety of our customers and colleagues is our absolute priority and as such there are likely to be a number of speed restrictions in place around our network, while some other lines may be forced to close entirely. We are working closely together to minimise any disruption and will do all we can to keep our customers moving and informed.”