Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Pledges and commitments

Not many readers will remember Labour's manifesto for the 2012 council elections, and Kevin Madge is probably hoping that you don't, but for anyone interested in refreshing their memory, the document can be found here.


The centre piece of the manifesto was to start building council houses again. A recent Freedom of Information request showed that after three years in power, Kevin Madge's council has built just 11 2-bedroom bungalows for the elderly and one specially adapted bungalow. A report published by the council in September 2013 showed that the bungalows cost £535,000 more than budgeted.

Looked at another way, Kevin Madge's contribution to the ludicrous target of 15,000+ new homes set out in the council's Local Development Plan currently stands at 0.0008%.

All of the new bungalows are in the Labour-held Llanelli constituency, and not one has been built in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Plaid) or Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Tory).

Money to build new council houses should come from revenues previously sent to something called the Housing Revenue Account, a UK set-up which is estimated to have sucked £51 million out of the county during the period 1999 to 2011.

Incidentally, scrapping the HRA so that councils like Carmarthenshire could retain "surplus" council house rents and start building new homes, was one of the biggest achievements of Plaid's Jonathan Edwards in the last parliament. Labour initially refused to back his campaign.

If progress has been almost non-existent since Kevin Madge became leader, the outlook for the next three years is unclear at best, with the council saying that it is currently holding a consultation, and that it will announce its policy in the autumn:

At the present time, around £12m has been identified in our business plan over next three years to support increasing the supply of affordable housing, of which new build may be a component.

Note the use of the word "may".

The second strand of Labour's policy in this area is to rely on the planning system to deliver so-called affordable housing.

The manifesto commitment was very vague, committing only to "aim for an appropriate percentage of social housing in new private estates".

What is appropriate? In practice "appropriate" turns out to mean zero (Stradey Park in Llanelli) to bugger all. Almost without fail, developers who agree to modest levels of affordable housing as a part of their planning briefs end up going back to the council to ask for lower targets.

There is a current example of this at Ffos Las where the developer committed to deliver 15% of the planned 280 new homes as affordable housing. The company is now asking for a reduction in its commitments, and the council is refusing to publish a feasibility study produced by the developer's agents to justify this application.

Just as developers invariably ask for a reduction in their commitments, the council agrees to drop its targets.

The result is that, according to a recent Welsh Government study, Carmarthenshire is ranked 21st out of 22 Welsh councils in terms of delivery of affordable housing.


Among the many other manifesto, um, commitments there are a lot which nobody could pin down, such as:

  • Provide our communities with strong leadership
  • Work diligently to eradicate poverty
  • Work closely with and help develop the rural community
  • Review the work of the Tourism Review Board
  • Liaise widely to improve the welfare of elderly people (whenever Cneifiwr was stuck for something to say in his monthly reports to his old boss, he would say he had "liaised widely". It never worked.)
  • Seek new opportunities with Town and Community Councils
And so on and so on, for page after page. It would be easier to nail a jelly to the ceiling.

Then there is a category of downright bizarre promises:

  • Improve signage for motorists entering Carmarthenshire (presumably preceded by a man waving a red flag)
  • Establish new bridleways for horses (as opposed to bridleways for lamas, and in any case a pledge which appears to have been forgotten)
Charging for school buses

There are some promises which could be taken either way:

  • Undertake a complete review of all school transport (if "review" meant introducing charges for children aged 16+, this promise has been met)

And then there is a large list of broken promises or things which just never got any further than a bullet point list in the manifesto:

  • Prioritise the maintenance and condition of road surfaces (spending slashed)
  • Oppose any attempts to charge Blue Badge holders for parking (charges introduced)
  • Maintain resources for adult education and leisure (spending slashed)
  • Support Council run residential homes (shut down)
  • Return a council-run Pest Control Service (see story here on the rat presented to Mark James)
A beacon of best practice

There is also a category of airy-fairy commitments which were not quite airy-fairy enough, such as:

  • Work closely with workplace representatives (Labour approved plans to remove important union rights in the workplace, and relations with the unions have never been at a lower ebb)
  • Support work to tackle violence and domestic abuse (support for groups such as Women's Aid has been slashed)
  • Become beacons of best practice in the workforce ("best practice" seems to mean zero hour and short-term contracts, use of sub-contractors paying less than the minimum wage, and dire pay and conditions for many others)
Yesterday Labour's big guns turned out in Ammanford to launch their 5-point pledge cards. Although that's far fewer pledges than Kevin Madge's manifesto, Carwyn Jones was unable to name three of them, and as we saw on the BBC News, other supporters and some candidates scored even lower.

That tells you something about how seriously the party takes its promises.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Now is the spring of their discontent

Plots, back stabbings, coups and civil wars are nothing new in the ranks of 'Welsh' Labour as the people of Swansea and Cardiff can testify, so despite the odd rumble of discontent, it is perhaps all the more remarkable that Kevin Madge has managed to get through three years as leader of Carmarthenshire County Council.

Massive spending cuts, a torrent of scandals, huge increases in council tax and other charges at a time when household budgets have been under intense pressure, being shackled to Mark James and the marriage of convenience with Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer have not made Kev's time at the top a happy one.

Kevin Madge and the county council are electoral toxic waste, as Labour's canvassers are discovering, and so it comes as no surprise to hear that moves are once again afoot in Llanelli to ditch the walking disaster from Garnant.

One of Labour's biggest problems in Carmarthenshire is that its gene pool of talent is vanishingly small. Only two of Labour's front bench team could be serious contenders for the leadership, and only one of them comes from Llanelli. He does not wear a beehive, either.

But will he take the plunge?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Taking us for mugs


Nick Servini was busy doing the work of Labour's spin doctors again on the Sunday Politics Show earlier today, saying that he was hearing from Labour sources that Ukip is "taking chunks" out of Plaid's vote in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

The only concrete evidence of Ukip's polling in the constituency is from last year's European elections when Ukip knocked Labour into third place. Oh dear.


And they're off! Yes, the 2015 General Election Stakes have finally, officially, got underway.

Anyone who saw BBC Wales's coverage of the launch of Plaid Cymru's campaign on Thursday would have been left confused by Nick Servini's closing line that Labour is also pledged to ending austerity and standing up for Wales.

The BBC has some very good political journalists, but Servini isn't one of them. He seems to have decided some time ago that politics is all very complicated and a bit boring. It's much too difficult for people in Wales to understand, so the result is a bit like someone serving up a bowl of pureed mush to a slightly deaf and very bewildered resident of a care home.

Had the BBC's "Wales Political Editor" picked up on a sudden, dramatic change of policy to end austerity? As for "standing up for Wales" or "standing up for the community", would anyone wanting to be elected ever say the opposite? It sounds good, but what does it mean?

After receiving two leaflets from LibDem Mark Williams in the last couple of weeks, it was the turn of Calum Higgins, Labour's hopeful in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, to weigh down the postman's delivery bag yesterday and prove Nick Servini wrong.

Labour supporters, even of the bused-in from England variety, are very thin on the ground in these parts, and it is likely that all we will get to see is the glossy pamphlet.

The leaflet is remarkable only for being completely on-message Labour HQ stuff. The pledges include balancing the books, which means more cuts. Yes, Nick, Labour is pledged to continuing austerity.

Next up is helping the low-paid, unlike Carmarthenshire County Council, of which Calum is a loyal member. Then we have freezing energy bills for a limited period. Thanks to the drop in oil prices, this promise is worth precisely £0.00, and then there is "investing in our Welsh NHS".

The slight problem with that last one is that the NHS is devolved and has nothing to do with Westminster.

Not mentioned anywhere is Calum's promise in the local press that he would vote against renewing Trident. That goes against British Labour policy, and Carwyn Jones's offer to find a new home for the Trident submarines in Milford Haven if Scotland ever chucks them out.

If you feel strongly that spending £100 billion on renewing Trident is a waste of money and/or immoral, voting Labour would not be on your list of options.

What Calum's leaflet tells us is that putting him in parliament would get us just another bit of lobby fodder.

Special Offer

And finally, for anyone considering voting Ukip despite all the mounting evidence that this would be a very bad idea indeed, Labour has good news. For just £5 you can become the proud owner of a red Labour anti-immigration mug*:

Embedded image permalink

* Warning: this mug contains policies which also come in blue, yellow and purple mugs.

For a Labour perspective on the mug story, see the New Statesman.