Thursday, November 29, 2012

Advice to CCC re making savings

Mark James has said that the council need to make savings of some ridiculous amount. Perhaps he should look at getting rid of all the "directors" of services including his own post, at a rough guess that must surely save a million quid a year. I'm not sure that the present executive board provides any true value for money either and then there are the toothless scrutiny committees.

The next to go would be any office space that the council rent rather than own, followed swiftly by its vanity publishing effort that gets shoved down our throats whether we want it or not. Maybe they ought to call in the various loans that have been given to lame ducks and get the development companies to pay proper amounts for land released at peppercorn rents.

I wonder how much money is wasted on software and computing but huge amounts could be saved by using open source software; a lot of cities and regions in Europe have migrated to Linux on servers and desktops for annual savings of millions of pounds, several US government departments have done the same.

The one thing they shouldn't do is close public toilets in busy seaside villages, Pendine, Laugharne, Llansteffan and Ferryside to name but a few, or else the piles of ordure will put off the very welcome visitors who use the local businesses!

Friday, September 21, 2012

yet another Meldrew moment

In this weeks Journal and other places on the web Mark James is unapologetic over the Ombudsman's condemnation of the council and offers the advice that it would have been better to keep them in  a B&B. I am shocked that a so called "civil servant" should be so uncivil!

This is the man who blithely shifts in imaginary funds from next years budget to cover a shortfall in the financing of a local care home.

This is a man who wishes to cow council tax payers and lobbyists by threatening to sue for costs against any protest by any group.

This is a man who dismisses constituents concerns as being unworthy of mention in a full council meeting, is he as dismissive to everyone?

Time is coming when somebody who can actually do something might notice how this man blights our reputation here in Carmarthenshire!

As the honourable Victor said "I don't believe it"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Super Olympics

I am just returned from a day (Thursday 9th) in the Olympic stadium; the experience of the whole thing was amazing, on arrival we were whisked through security and someone spotted I was using two walking sticks and escorted us to a golf buggy to take us to near the stadium and when I got out a young man (thank you Mark) appeared with a wheelchair and zoomed us to ticket resolution who changed our tickets for up in the gods to much more accessible places just above the 100 meters start line; he also kept popping back to see if I needed help to get around.

We saw women's high jump heats, decathlon discus and pole vault and last but not least the 4x400 heats. There was a fantastic buzz all the time but when the GB sprint team was announced the buzz turned to a roar which seemed to get louder through each leg of the race, no wonder they qualified.

The sun shone brightly and food and drink was consumed and by 2pm we were thoroughly cooked and ready to go home, when Mark reappeared and whisked us back to the golf buggy shuttle to get back to the gate.

The stadium is brilliant and all the volunteers and other people seemed all to have taken happy pills, it could have been grating but wasn't. All the service personnel were absolutely great and the place was heaving with people, the only free space was around the heavily armoured and armed policemen although they were smiling and sweating heavily under their burden.

After a glorious few sunny days in London we have returned to situation normal and teaming rain, oh joy!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Faecal matter

I am sort of amused and horrified at the same time about the "Dog fouling costs £2m per year" headline in the local paper. I and five others spent last Monday wallowing through two ledgers that Carmarthenshire call their accounts and couldn't find out very much because of the way the information was presented, yet the chief executive was able to magic up the £2,000,000 figure in seconds. So Mr. James could you please tell me how you got the figures, as it was not easily apparent in the ledgers we were given?

Indeed our scrutiny of the books was frustrating, as we were only given fragmented books and could not have purchase ledger totals or a trial balance against which to work. How the council runs its business seems to me to be a whole lot of obfuscation and recharging, twas enough to make an old idiot's head spin.

So do they have something to hide?? In my humble opinion they certainly do!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The system is messed up.

I have been reading Polly Toynbee's piece about Cameron's big cut idea and I agree with everything she says and I would like to point especially to the comment by NorthMiner.

That Tesco, Morrisons et al make huge profits while staff are kept on minimal contracts and live mostly by working tax credits, the system is messed up.

Jimmy Carr pays 1% tax on a 3.3 million pound income and he was just one of the thousand on that particular scheme. News International, Vodaphone et al have elaborate tax avoidance schemes while people in the lowest tax bracket pay disproportionately more, the system is messed up. 

Politicians get paid a good wage and usually for two homes as well, families on benefits face being moved from their own neighbourhoods to distant "cheaper ones", the system is messed up.

Affordable housing is out of the reach of most of the lower paid and is snapped up by buy to rent schemes that bolster pensions of already well provided for people, the system is messed up.

MPs and civil servants will retire to index linked pension, the lowest earners will live in penury, the system is messed up.

I can't write any more, the system is messed up!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Learning to feed

The juvenile is now pecking at the fat balls for itself, with mum

There is also a cute pic of a tree rat eating fallen bird feed

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mother love

 On the bird table in the rain a woodpecker feeding a juvenile from the fat balls, so lucky to have the camera to hand and the batteries not spent

A right little punk with that distinctive red cap which doesn't show up if looking from the back
— in Llanybri, United Kingdom.

Friday, March 30, 2012

£140,000 a year?

I received my copy of Carmarthenshire News the other day and having looked through I realised that there was little actual news just a load of puffery from the council's PR department so I wrote and asked how much this cost the council tax payer annually. In return I got the following email:
Dear Mr Bain,
Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 29th March, 2012 and has been dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The specific information you requested was as follows:
“Could you please tell me how much money is spent annually producing and posting the council "newspaper"”

In response, the information you have requested is already published by the Council on its website and may be accessed as follows:
Under Section 21 of the Act, a public authority is not obliged to provide information where it is already reasonably accessible to the applicant, which in this case is online as explained above.
As I am refusing to provide information on the basis that it is already published, please consider this email as a formal notice of refusal under Section 17 of the Act.
If you are unhappy with the way in which your request has been handled, you can request a review by writing to:
The Head of Administration & Law
Carmarthenshire County Council
County Hall
SA31 1JP
If you remain unhappy with the handling of your request or complaint, you have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner at:
The Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Telephone: 0303 123 1113
There is no charge for making an appeal.
If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours sincerely
John Tillman
Swyddog Gwybodaeth a Diogelu Data
Adran y Prif Weithredwr
Cyngor Sir Gaerfyrddin
Information & Data Protection Officer
Chief Executive's Department
Carmarthenshire County Council
Mewnol/Internal: 4127
Allanol/External: 01267 224127
Mae'r e-bost hwn ac unrhyw atodiadau yn gyfrinachol ac wedi'u bwriadu at ddefnydd yr unigolyn y'u cyfeiriwyd ato/ati yn unig. Os derbyniwch y neges hon trwy gamgymeriad, rhowch wybod i'r sawl a'i hanfonodd ar unwaith, dilëwch y neges o'ch cyfrifiadur a dinistriwch unrhyw gopïau papur ohoni. Ni ddylech ddangos yr e-bost i neb arall, na gweithredu ar sail y cynnwys. Eiddo'r awdur yw unrhyw farn neu safbwyntiau a fynegir, ac nid ydynt o reidrwydd yn cynrychioli safbwynt y Cyngor. Dylech wirio am firysau eich hunan cyn agor unrhyw atodiad. Nid ydym yn derbyn unrhyw atebolrwydd am golled neu niwed a all fod wedi'i achosi gan firysau meddalwedd neu drwy ryng-gipio'r neges hon neu ymyrryd â hi.

This e-mail and any attachments are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual to whom it is addressed. If received in error please notify the sender immediately, delete the message from your computer and destroy any hard copies. The e-mail should not be disclosed to any other person, nor the contents acted upon. Any views or opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Council. You should carry out your own virus check before opening any attachment. We accept no liability for any loss or damage which may be caused by software viruses or interception/interruption of this mail. 
I was tempted to reply directly but thought it more apposite to just add my tuppence worth  in the wilds of the interwebs:
Having perused the link they sent the information does not say from which external organisations the sponsorship and adverts come from, I think they are mostly council controlled or funded and as such are no more than a fig leaf or perhaps creative accounting. There is no breakdown of the costs of producing and hosting the web pages.
By my reckoning that is at least £140,000 wasted on a lot of subjective waffle which would not warrant more than a couple of paragraphs in a proper newspaper.
How many useful projects could that help?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Welcome to Ruritania

Yet another meeting that I have been unlawfully excluded from because I refused to sign an unlawful undertaking. Oh the irony of reading in the Carmarthen Journal that the Council had stopped asking people to sign the undertaking almost made me utter a Victor Meldrew catch phrase.

Another irony that on the front door of the Council is a sign saying that there are CCTV cameras in the building recording our every move, funny that it is such a contentious thing to film inside the Council Chamber.

Yet more stupidly they have a notice that under fire regulations visitors have to sign in and then be locked in an area that does not allow emergency egress without phoning through to be escorted out of the building

On that same page is a story about the Council leader's ill advised impromptu speech criticising protesters and council workers,  she says that the footage has been edited to suit their own agenda, well if these things were recorded properly then we could all see what she said, context and all ;-)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Shame on you Carmarthenshire (even more)

I live in a beautiful place that is blighted by a council that does not and will not listen, you will of course know about their public access ban*
Somebody pointed out on Caebrwyn's blog that public access is guaranteed by the Public Bodies(Admission to Meetings) Act 1960; so I wrote to Linda Rees-Jones:

"I had assumed that as one of the council's law officers that you are obliged to conform to the various Local Government Acts but you appear to be overlooking the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 which clearly states the public right of admission and, unless you have persuaded the Government to draft new laws especially for you, I expect to find the door to the public gallery to be open for the public entry and egress for all meetings from now on.
Yours faithfully"
 She wrote back almost immediately:

"The 1960 Act does not apply to County Councils; rather, admission to meetings of County Councils is governed by the Local Government Act

Yours faithfully,"
I have written to her Again:
"Dear Ms Rees-Jones
Annotations C1 of the Public Bodies Act 1960 specifically mentions "non-metropolitan counties and districts constituted by LGA 1972" which makes me think that it does cover your public meetings, I shall still expect to be able to enter the public gallery without hindrance.

yours faithfully"
I'm not sure that she can have looked at both acts and worked out that they are linked. I await, with baited breath, to hear her rebuttal ;-)

*doh! since starting to write this blog Caebrwyn posted that the undertaking has now been rescinded

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Shame on you Carmarthenshire (ongoing saga)

As anybody reading this will know CarmCC have refused to let me into their public meetings unless I sign an undertaking not to film or record the proceedings; there is no lawful way for them to do this, however their Acting Head of Administration and Law has sent me some waffle by post and when I said that was not good enough she then emailed me the following:

 Dear Mr. Bain,
Thank you for your e-mail.

I consider the introduction of the requirement for members of the public wishing to access the public gallery to first sign an undertaking to be a lawful one, yes. In an ideal world such an undertaking would not be required, but in light of disruption to previous meetings it was considered necessary to introduce some sort of process to avoid future disruption and ensure the smooth running of meetings. You will not find mention of it in the Constitution or Standing Orders because, as I said in my letter of the 5th December, it was a decision taken by officers.

There has never, to my knowledge, been an issue with the press. 

As I have previously told you the whole issue of whether meetings should be filmed is being considered by a Task and Finish Group so the requirement for an undertaking to be signed may change.

Yours faithfully,

Linda Rees-Jones
Acting Head of Administration & Law
And Monitoring Officer

It is interesting that she makes no mention of consulting the people who are nominally in charge of the Council!