April 19 2012


On Monday, the BBC's "PM" programme carried an item on local newspapers during which all the usual stuff about their role in informing the public and holding local politicians to account was wheeled out.
You can judge the extent to which this is true with regard to my letter in this week's Western Telegraph.
All I will say is that what appeared in the paper was only that part of my letter that the WT thought you should see.
The full text of what I wrote is printed below.
Those parts in bold are what the WT deemed to be unfit for your eyes.
Words in square brackets are those substituted for what I actually wrote.

"Could I remind readers of the Western Telegraph's editorial published six weeks after the 2008 local elections in which your newspaper described the county council's ruling Independent Political Group (IPG) as."... a farcical 'independent' cabal, or a cabinet of puppets, presiding over the last supper of democracy", adding for good measure: "What a sad state local government has slumped into: polarised by party politics and overshadowed by the 'independent' umbrella of the ruling oxymoron party".
I agree wholeheartedly with the candidate for Hundleton, Margot Bateman (last week's WT letters) that "party political positioning has no place in county council elections, and we should elect strong local councillors who have common sense and speak their mind."
Can we take it that Mrs Bateman will not be joining this "ruling oxymoron party" if she is successful on May 3?
I agree even more with the letter from John Rhys Davies (Plaid candidate) that this "cabinet of puppets" [cabinet] didn't come out of the recent CSSIW/Estyn reports smelling of roses.
Indeed, as Mr Davies points out, it was not only the council's child protection procedures that came under fire, but the whole democratic, or should that be undemocratic, culture, including important decisions being taken at private meetings of senior officers where no minutes were kept thus "preventing elected members from exercising their key role of holding the executive and officers of the council to account".
As Mr Davies rightly points out, this all happened while the Independent Political Group with its 39-21 majority was in control of the authority.
Mr Davies suggests that voters should ask candidates: "Are you a member of the IPG or will you join them as soon as the election is over?"
That is a fair question because, if democratic accountability has any meaning, voters must have a right to know which of the candidates are present or potential members of this "farcical 'independent' cabal" [independent group].
Not that the ballot paper will be of much help because I notice that, of the 31 current IPG members standing for re-election, 18 have chosen to leave the description box blank.
It comes to something when an honourable word like 'independent' becomes so debased that it can't be mentioned in polite circles.
I also notice that two former members of the IPG, Rosemary Haynes and Henry Jones, are standing as Conservatives, which might give some indication as to the true colour of this non-political political party."

The point I was trying to make was that these criticisms of the IPG were not confined to malcontents like me who might have an axe to grind.
They were made with all the authority of Wales' biggest selling weekly newspaper, which you may remember is "The newspaper that fights for Pembrokeshire"
By censoring my letter the WT essentially destroyed the point I was trying to make.
Of course what is embarrassing for the WT is that these critical comments were published after the the IPG had safely been installed in power for another four years, and not, as you might expect from a local newspaper keen to inform its readers and hold local politicians to account, before the voters were taken in by these false independents.

Pulling the wool

I notice that the IPG's head cheerleader Richard Shepherd also has a letter in this week's WT, in which he says "Independents are not motivated by party politics, policies and whips; indeed they have no political agenda. they are men and women of experience and integrity who are free to solve problems on the merits of each case, free of party policy interference."
As an Independent councillor; not affiliated to any party or group, I must take issue with this.
If what Mr Shepherd says is true, why do these members have to sign up to a group in the first place (Party animals)?
What is the point of signing up if not to act as a group?
They are at perfect liberty to be truly independent just like the five of us who are described as "unaffiliated" on the council's agendas.
And, if what he says is true, why do these so-called independents hold a secret group get together on the day before each meeting of full council.
If the purpose of these meetings isn't to instruct members how to vote, what is it?
And can Mr Shepherd explain why these free spirits invariably vote as a group (Voting machines).
As one of my former colleagues at the Mercury used to put it: if there was an Olympic event for synchronised voting the IPG would win it hands up.
Perhaps Mr Shepherd's support for the IPG is something to do with their behaving like sheep.

Shoo in

Back in February, I published the salaries paid to members of the Hywel Dda Health Board (HDHB) (Gravy galore).
By happy coincidence, the following week the Western Telegraph also published the figures.
However, there was one notable omission from the WT's list - that of Cllr David Wildman who is paid between £10,000 and £15,000 as local authority representative on HDHB.
Lack of space, I suppose!
As readers will know there are changes underway in the local health service that are proving deeply unpopular and, as our representative, Cllr Wildman might be expected to explain his stance on these matters.
I did put down a question at the March meeting of full council on this subject and below are extracts from Cllr Wildman's reply.
After saying that Hywel Dda was carrying out a wide-ranging consultation exercise, he went on: "What appears to be emerging from the work already undertaken with senior clinicians across the professions and disciplines was that services could not continue to be delivered as they were at present and there had been a strong argument put forward for the concentration of specialist services in order to improve outcomes for patients"
And later: " In relation to orthopaedic services at Withybush, it was understood that those aspects of the service transferred to another site has been as the result of advice from senior clinicians in order to ensure the quality of service provided to patients."
Cllr Wildman didn't elaborate on the identity of these "senior clinicians" though I have reason to believe that it refers to those serving on Hywel Dda Health Board on vastly inflated salaries (Gravy galore).
This is interesting from the point of view of democratic accountability because Cllr Wildman, Tory party member and IPG bigwig, and the only elected person with any say on these controversial changes to the role of Withybush has been elected unopposed.

Sins of omission

Over the years I have seen several election addresses which boast that the sitting member "does not claim expenses".
Voters should treat these claims with caution; bearing in mind that there is a distinction between expenses and allowances.
I think that what they mean is travelling expenses, though why they don't make this clear is anybody's guess.
Travelling expenses are paid at the rate of 40p per mile, so a member with a twenty mile round trip and attending 30 meetings a year would be able to claim £240, or under five pounds a week.
Hardly what you would call the supreme sacrifice.
For anyone interested in what elected members have claimed, the information is published on the council's website pembrokeshire.gov.uk.
Click on Your Council, then Your council and councillors, and members claims are at the bottom of the list.
There you will discover that the travelling expenses foregone are dwarfed by the allowances collected.
As the poet said:
" 'Tis missing words that tell the biggest lies"

Printed and published by the candidate Mike Stoddart Milford Haven Hakin ward Pembrokeshire County Council elections May 3 2012.


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