TICKING DOWN TO COALITION CLIMAX. 27th March – 26th April 2012.
Flintshire Councillors met on the 27th March for the last Council Meeting of the 4th year of Coalition administration. Its been a mixed time for me personally. Health wobble, commitment to Flintshire Chairman as his consort plus my own heavy committee & ward workload. If that was not enough, I had to defend myself against the relentless pursuit of the Ombudsman’s investigator. Of course, that Adjudication Panel chaired by Ms Helen Cole, a specialist in non contentious legal matters going to find me guilty but that’s water under the bridge. This four years Council term has been a series of “if only!” If only the alleged misuse of a photocopier had not barred the rightful candidate for leadership of the Authority and allowed the present incumbent to take to the top slot. If only the Corporate Management Team had not alleged bullying by Patrick Heesom in March 2009, which allowed the Ombudsman’s investigation to start we would not have had to endure Arnold Woolley’s now officially criticised leadership. If only I had not volunteered a statement for Patrick Heesom as I had not witnessed any inappropriate behaviour during a housing selection panel I would not have stumped up £10.5K for legal fees & the Ombudsman would not have had the last laugh when a Panel gave me no sanction but found me guilty of misleading the PSOW. If only I hadn’t felt passionate about the ever declining state of the Housing Portfolio. This vital department had been in terminal decline for years as the wrong boss was chosen originally and the successor had minimal housing experience. Action was needed so I wrote to the CE who had given that crucial Portfolio to the Director of Social Services. Good at that job all say yes; but housing was a task too far. If only I had kept my big mouth shut, I would not have been accused of bulling her too- (lots of allegations of bullying of highly paid Directors) and the public need not have shelled out £24K to provide a legal opinion designed to allow that Director to exit on a fat stipend, something she had wanted for years. I would not have lost friends who admired the work of the Social Services Directorate and blamed me for getting rid of their much loved Social Services Director. Always two sides to every story. Pity I’m still not free to tell my side just yet but when I do, heads will roll & it will be difficult to believe. The Coalition administration has been dogged by the involvement of the Ombudsman since March 09. Heesom’s enormous experience on Housing and Planning etc was mostly lost to us and cracks appeared between the political parties who were for or against Woolley and Heesom. Some felt I had unfairly challenged the competence of the Director but her departure actually opened the way for a newly appointed Head of Housing bingo success at last. The entire housing portfolio has been transformed. The improvements in services and systems have been remarkable! This new, high calibre team of housing officers have been able to speed up the repair service, have closed down the serious management failings in the Housing repair HQ at Canton and introduced many better ways to deliver front line services . Cleaning up Canton, (HQ of the Housing Repair service), full of “Spanish Practices”, has been the biggest success. My burning desire for value for money and efficiency is happening Housing repair materials have been outsourced to Travis Perkins stores who are fully equipped to provide a safe and efficient service. Canton is a valuable asset for development and the money will come back to the Authority. The financial ongoing problem of “voids; council houses that no one wanted; is being actively addressed and as part of a Voids Working team, I was proud of helping to remedy this problem and we receive regular updates on progress. Rent arrears are being tacked now by a dedicated team and across the range, service is now delivered more promptly and more efficiently. Earlier, tenants voted overwhelmingly to remain with the Authority. This is despite Welsh Government bribes to move to a Social Housing Landlord instead of the sticking with the Council. I’ve got mixed views about this but the Council has kept land that would have been transferred and that must be good as it’s a valuable asset. Welsh Government must now choose. Give us more money to improve housing or be judged as “Cheapskates”for turning away from better standards. Happy to pay £1million plus on the stock transfer exercise and give sack load to a registered social landlord but won’t help the council bring stock up to the standard Welsh Government demands. All this will be the next new challenge to face the next set of councillors. Finally, if only the Welsh Audit Office had asked ALL elected members about how some cllrs were perceived to be behaving! Only 27 members were allowed to comment on the behaviour of anonymous allegedly disruptive members. Auditors then submitted a damning account of how a small number of cllrs have behaved inappropriately, and these nameless ones were judged as not helping the political process. I agree that Welsh Office Auditors were right to criticise “the relatively weak leadership” which had required top officers to take over the vacuum and “senior officers may be seen as having too much influence over decisions in areas that should be a councillor’s responsibility.” Mistrust between officers and members were also noted which had slowed down key council policies. The quote from the report continues, “Despite progress in many service areas, certain corporate weaknesses continue to hinder current performance and prospects” and we were smugly told that it had been a close call whether or not to bring in Commissioners and remove power from the elected members. Just as well Commissioners were not appointed to run Flintshire as in Anglesey. They don’t come cheap. £500 a day or £62,50 an hour. Nice work if you can get it! Although carefully worded, the Audit report was a bad report and my constant concern that the CE wields too much power has been justified. Members have virtually been sidelined from exercising their democratic duty and as was the case with the powerful Cllr Heesom. His career has been effectively torpedoed for most of the last 4 years. His Tribunal has not sat since September, will probably not resume until next June and I still cannot get justice for being the victim of perjured evidence against me. And the cost?. Apart from a little foray into the judicial review running up some £14K, the major legal action is still supposed to be an eye watering (still outstanding) £3 million. Who pays? We will! Reel back to the last Council meeting on 27th March.. Chairman’s chaplain led prayers and we then tackled a full agenda that ranged from already mentioned Welsh Audit Office’s report on this Authorities performance to a petition for special stiles across footpaths for doggy use and then on to more weighty issue of setting up the mechanism to introduce local development plans. (Another challenging area to confront the next regime. Sadly, since 2008, the Authority’s Human Resources still cannot provide accurate information on the number of people the Authority employs and this unreliability affects our overall competence as a council which is a real shame as this was a flag ship goal in 2008. All has not been black and this Coalition has in fact achieved a lot and some of us have learned a lot too. There is still so much more to be done. The role that Flintshire Local Government plays in the lives and well-being of Flintshire people cannot be understated. From 9th May, a new clutch of elected members will be filing into the the council chamber. Many will be the old hands with donkey’s years of service and new ones just fresh from the heady success at the Election Count. My appetite to serve & to tackle waste and poor practise, is undiminished. *** I was re-elected with a strong mandate to continue serving my constituents. More to come.