Posts Tagged ‘council’

County Pomp & Circumstance

Momentous day for Cllr Colin Legg, because at the 11am County Council meeting, the outgoing Chairman was to relinquish his chain of office & present it to the incoming chairman: Cllr. Colin of Halkyn Ward. I would be in on the act too as I had accepted Colin’s invitation to be his consort for his Civic Year. The practice run the day before had been a little chaotic & I had been reminded that after my chain was bestowed, I would return to my seat in the chamber to finish the rest of the business. During the real ceremony Quentin Dodd handed over his chain, oath was signed under the watchful eye of the Chief Executive and then I was called to the dais to collect my chain. Kisses and handshakes all round after the heavy metal piece of Flintshire history was laid on my shoulders. Sadly, my name won’t appear on the roll of honour. It will never appear on Hawarden Community Council’s Chairman’s role of honour board either – I would have liked to have been engraved somewhere! What vanity! Owen Thomas, as the incoming deputy chair was then called and the ritual was repeated. Bouquets appeared from …..

AUDIT COMMITEE- the facts don’t add up!

Last week’s Flintshire Chronicle had “Council in Chaos” emblazoned across the front page that depicted County Hall being rent in half with a bolt of lightning. All very dramatic and rather an exaggeration as the Coalition has set its first budget with a promise of more savings in the pipe line and most of the senior vacancies have been filled with excellent calibre staff. Our Executive members are working hard, clearly at ease with their portfolios & we are led by a professional and deeply committed public servant; Cllr. Arnold Woolley. However, saying all that a few odd things are happening that have raised eyebrows. A sharp eyed colleague pushed under my nose a report of the Executive Decision made on 10th March which related to the last Audit committee meeting- (27th Jan. See earlier blog!) I read with incredulity that members are requested to : ‘Support the extension of the contract with RMS Bentley Jennison and the work to achieve a transfer of the management of the Internal Audit function back in-house no later than 1st April 2010.’ “We didn’t agree that my informant complained, what was the word we agreed?” Review in a year was in fact what …..

Christmas Capers.

On 16th December, we took a break from budgets problems, scrutiny committees and single status debates to enjoy carols and music courtesy of Flintshire Youth Group in the Council Chamber. We then processed to an excellent traditional turkey and Christmas pudding lunch specially served to cllrs and guests in a committee rooms. (Guests had to pay but why not)! I had to forgo pud to attend a 2.30pm meeting in Chester with my favourite local charity, Save the Family. We had important business to discuss with the new and very impressive Chief Executive as STF is on the threshold of doubling its much needed accommodation and all sorts of detail had to be explored. With repossessions rising and homelessness seriously on the increase, the demands on this charity by destitute, homeless families is just going to go though the roof. My last council engagement before the Recess was a meeting with Mark Isherwood and Brynle Williams, our Welsh Conservative AM’s. Over sandwiches, Mark gave a very illuminating brief on housing transfer strategy. I might have got the wrong end of the stick but he was not aware that there had been any agreement with FCC and the Deputy housing minister …..

No Laptops for Housing

At a recent Community and Housing meeting, I was cross to learn that progress was behind schedule when rolling out a computerised means of council tenants reporting faults which, when up and running should make big savings and speed up the maintenance service. When visiting Canton, the Housing and Maintenance HQ some weeks ago, we saw a system that seemed to be working well and I was impressed. Tenants are issued with a computerised manual to make reporting a fault much easier to identify so that the fault can be fully logged and agreed without the need to send work people to identify the problem before a repair can be effected. The reason for the delay to this project was not made clear and we also learned of slippage on a system designed to track the whereabouts of all council transport. Again, the reason for the delay was vague! This scheme also has the potential to make big savings and so any delay in introducing it is regrettable.

Controversy of Preferential Interest

Moscow and St. Petersburg have been added to my travel experience over the summer and the Hermitage was stunning, with world artists and all sorts of treasurers vying for attention. Unusually, SAGA travel, (Sex and Games Abroad) got quite a few things wrong and several clients have decided not to travel with them again. Back home, it took days to get to grips with the emails and correspondence and then it was council business as usual with an Audit Committee meeting scheduled for 24th September. The papers were a heavy read although lightened by the exclusion of A & D Waste and Clwyd Theatr Cymru accounts. Flintshire’s external auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers were unfazed by these omissions. After some heavy mutterings, things are only going to get better as our chief Executive has engaged someone to look carefully at how this waste business is operated. (Long overdue in the opinion of several people I represent!).

Planning Decisions

On Monday 28th July, I joined the bus taking Planning Committee members to see the sites.  It’s all taken very seriously and, at each site, we are reminded of the rules of engagement, including that the objectors are not allowed to address us and we do not make any decision on the spot but wait until the committee meets later in the week. A neighbour was objecting to the erection of a two-storey extension that would replace a smaller one.  Bus rolled up to a very smart part of Mold and we all trooped into the applicant’s garden to have the facts explained by our officers.  We then trotted round the corner to the garden of the objecting neighbours to look at things from their side of the fence.  The neighbours could only stare mutely at us as we wandered around observing and noting, as the rules do not allow objectors to address us.  I thought the objection was unsustainable and wondered how much this visit alone had cost, taking into account the bus, the driver and the time out for officers and councillors alike.

Challenging Decisions

Blogging has been on the back burner for age, not because of the “hate mail” threats but because of the heavy schedule of training sessions and meetings demanded by County Hall. I’ve had three compulsory training sessions, and more are in the diary, plus Overview and Scrutiny, Corporate Governance and Local Government and Democratic Services presentations. As I’m on the Audit Committee, we had to learn how to read an accounts sheet and fathom the mysteries of Local Government finance. The Authority turns over some £360 million and manages a pension fund of £900m. The Council is legally bound to produce a budget by a given day and 100’s of officers are involved in closing the accounts for the year ending March 2008.

8th June

Opening Flintshire’s manilla envelopes Sunday evening, a smaller neatly typed one to Councillor Alison Halford, County Hall address with first class stamp and Chester post mark fell out with the papers. It contained two typed unsigned plain sheets (apart from an odd biro squiggle at the end) and the contents were truly nasty. My first poisonous pen letter! Latex gloved I photocopied the original and stored it for further consideration. As a young detective, I was well aware that what ever is touched leaves some mark by the handler. Forensic advances in DNA testing has now been elevated to being a infallible guide to recognising who has touched an object. Marks on paper are usually particularly revealing! I was shocked that it read as if it had been penned by a fellow councillor although some attempt has been made to move it away from the County Hall scenario. It opened: ”Dear Alison, News of your infamous blog travels fast, and not only along the corridors of County Hall (….) Mentioning XX- name given – (with one letter wrong in the surname) was despicable. Drawing perverse comfort from (XX’s) misfortunes, has rocked us all. It was not your place to kick …..